The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Five

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-There’s more to the story. See the Prologue, Chapter One, Chapter Two, Chapter Three, and Chapter Four.

 

Chapter Five

Followed

-10 Years Ago

Inhabitant Vaughn Faul read the next item up for discussion aloud to the room.

“Inhabitants Todd, Merkle, and James are to be banished to the Unknowns tomorrow. We must decide their fate.”

Jonas Pratt, the Supreme Inhabitant looked around the crescent moon shaped table at his fellow members of the Pinnacle. He could see by the way they avoided his gaze that they were waiting for him to speak first. He waved his hand at the Secretary. “Vaughn, read us the charges against each Inhabitant will you?”

Vaughn cleared his throat. “Inhabitant Thom Merkle and Esther James were found selling faulty counterfeit upgrades that caused multiple traffic disruptions, nine hospitalizations, and one death.”

Several of the eleven members shook their heads. A poor, young couple had bought the upgrades at a bargain price to give their infant son a chance at a better life; instead, the upgrades had caused a massive seizure leading to his death.

“Inhabitant Jason Todd was observed telling tales of the old days to his daughter, Sara, by his wife,” Vaughn continued. “She also suspects he has tampered with their daughter’s implants. The findings were inconclusive and the girl will be adjusted.”

Jason Todd was the city’s most gifted inventor. To send such a valuable asset into the Unknowns was unthinkable. To allow him to stay and spread his lies would be worse. This one malcontent could infect the entire city. Still, they couldn’t kill him.

“Send him out with the others, but make sure his daughter watches from home. We don’t need anyone getting sympathetic.”

The eleven nodded in agreement.

“Dispatch the other two. Separate them from Todd, then activate the cranial implant about a mile from the city. We’ll keep track of Inhabitant Todd in case we need his help to finish this.”

Jonas grasped at the air in front of his face and made a throwing motion towards the open end of the table, bringing up a virtual screen. On the screen were partially finished blueprints for a bomb. He grinned, his gold teeth glinting in the half-light.

                                                                 ___

Sara broke into a sweat. So they had found the note; it was all over now. She’d be banished to die in the Unknowns like her father and her friend.

“Well, out with it,” the doctor prodded, “why aren’t you taking your vitamins?”

Doctor Aliah looked so stern but Sara was trying her hardest not to laugh from relief. Vitamins were a small matter next to a note from a dead traitor. She tried her best to look repentant.

“I guess I just forgot. I’ve been a little forgetful since an adjustment I had at school a couple weeks ago.”

“A thin excuse,” said the doctor, “but I suppose I can let you off with a warning this time.” She gave Sara a narrow look. “But don’t think I won’t send a ping to your mother to make sure she is fully aware of the situation.” She frowned, adding, “And there is nothing wrong with your implants electronically, Sara. Perhaps it was only a vitamin deficiency.”

It was Sara’s turn to frown. She knew she hadn’t imagined the glitches, the headaches- even the voices. Those had started three days ago. They whispered to her at night, urging her to pack and leave, urging her to come out into the Unknowns where it was Safe. Sometimes Sara could swear it was her father’s voice.

Her face must have betrayed her confusion.

“Is there anything else you should be telling me, Inhabitant?”

Sara shook her head no.

“Very well. See the receptionist on the way out to settle your bill.” The doctor waived her hand in a dismissive motion.

Sara almost leaped out of the chair in her effort to get out of the room. Amie the receptionist was waiting at her desk, still as chipper as ever.

“Your visit will cost you only three credits today. Thumb please!”

Sara pressed her right thumb to the glowing blue pad Amie pushed in front of her. It scanned her thumbprint to confirm her identity, then the chip in her thumb for her plan and payment information. The pad flashed green twice.

“Great,” Amie chirped, “you’re all set to go! I hope you’ve had a pleasant experience! Have a splendid-“

But Sara was already out of the building, unfolding her board and joining the second tier traffic. A hooded figure followed a few seconds later.

 

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A Man and His Dog

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Former Captain Frank Able settled into his brand new recliner with a sigh. It had been a present to himself upon his retirement almost six months ago, not that he had been able to enjoy it much.

He had been on the force for almost forty-four years. In all that time he put away more than his share of bad men and raised two good ones. If anyone deserved a little time in the den in front of the T.V. by the fire with his old dog Champion snoozing by his side, it was Frank. But Martha didn’t see it that way.

Martha was Frank’s bride of thirty-eight years come December, not that she’d ever let him forget it. She was a petite woman, still trim at sixty-two, with thick gray hair she kept neatly styled in the same short waves she’d had since their wedding day. She was a culinary wizard in her bright yellow kitchen and kept their house neat and cozy. Everyone loved Martha.

Everyone, that is, but Frank. She nagged him constantly, from the minute he walked in the door until the minute he left in the morning. It had gotten even worse now that he was retired and home more often than not. Frank never let on how much she bothered him if he could help it, at first for the boys’ sake, then because he was used to her. You didn’t end a marriage of thirty-eight years simply because your wife was a bit of a nag.

Frank was warm and drowsy by the fire, only half watching the T. V. when Martha walked into the den.

“Frank, sweetheart, I’m so glad you can enjoy your new recliner dear while I’ve been slaving in the kitchen over a hot stove, but it’s almost dinnertime and you’d better get dressed; the Peterson’s are coming over and I want you to wear something nice. I laid something out on the bed for you, if you care to wear it sweetheart.”

Frank looked at Martha. The fire snapped and crackled, shadows and lights playing across her face, catching the whiteness of her teeth and the redness of her smile. She always wore that red lipstick when guests were over, another thing Frank couldn’t stand; the way it smeared over her teeth an into the cracks around her mouth as she ate, the way she laughed her loud, braying laugh with those red-flecked teeth after drinking a little too much wine, how flirtatious the wine made her.

“Frank, dear, hadn’t you better hurry?”

He snapped his recliner upright and scratched the back of his head.

“I reckon I’d better Martha,” he sighed, “I reckon I’d better.”

That night at dinner Martha drank heavily. Dan Peterson took a long swallow from his glass and addressed Frank.

“So Frank, how are you finding the retirees club, eh? Living fun and fancy free?”

“Yeah Dan, I guess we’ll have to get together in the park and play checkers like all the other old men,” Frank chuckled, stabbing at his dry steak.

“Kim’s been keeping me busy around the house,” Dan winked at his wife, “chores and whatnot, you know.”

“Oh Dan, I haven’t really,” Kim protested, “just spring cleaning the garage is all.”

“Spring cleaning should be done in spring, right Frank,” Dan guffawed.

“Good for you Kimmy dear,” Martha chimed in, “I can’t get Frank to budge from his comfy new recliner,” she laughed into her wine glass.

Frank stabbed again at his steak with a wry smile. Dan coughed and took another long swallow, draining his glass.

“Have some more wine, Dan?”

“No thanks, Martha. Excellent dinner though. I think we’d better be getting along home now.”

“Oh, but it’s barely eight, and besides, you haven’t had dessert,” Martha winked and licked her lips, smearing the hideous red lipstick like fresh blood past the border of her thin lips.

Kim dabbed at the corners of her mouth with her white cloth napkin and cleared her throat softly, looking with a sideways glance at her husband.

“Yes, well, we’d best be going anyway Martha,” Dan folded his napkin and pushed back from the table.

Frank pushed back from the table as well, though he’d hardly touched his dinner. His smile was tight as he walked with his friends to the door. “Good to have you over tonight Dan, Kim,” he said, clapping Dan on his back. “Sorry about the wife.”

“No trouble at all Frank,” Dan helped his wife with her jacket, then put on his hat and overcoat.

Martha walked up to the party, sloshing her half-full glass of wine. “Sorry about what, Frank? What have I done now? Have I embarrassed you? ” She leaned on the bannister across from the front door.

“Martha, go and lie down, will you honey?”

“No, I want to know what you feel you have to apologize for, Frank? Why are you being such an old prude? We were having fun-”

“We’ll be seeing you,” Dan interjected, opening the front door and dragging his wife with him.

Frank slammed the door behind the Petersons. “Really Martha, act your age,” Frank fumed at her. “Look at yourself. You’re acting like a child. You’re slopping wine all over the place. And you have lipstick all over your teeth. You look ridiculous.”

Martha straightened in a cold rage. “What makes you think you can speak to me that way, Franklin Rudolph Able? What gives you the gall to scold me in front of our friends?”

Frank folded like a house of cards. “Martha, listen honey, maybe you’d-“

“Don’t you ‘listen honey’ me, Frank!”

Martha was all geared up to lay into Frank with a vengeance, but Champion picked that moment to see what all the fuss was about. He bounded around the corner, galloping towards his master. Unfortunately for Martha, he was unable to stop himself on the hardwood floor and crashed into her legs. The wine glass fell from her hand sending shards of glass and red wine droplets everywhere.

Martha landed hard on her backside with a yelp and a curse. She floundered for her footing, cutting her hands on the broken glass. Champion whined an apology, his tail between his legs, but she would have none of it and began screaming obscenities at the dog.

Frank had bent to help her up, but stopped and straightened. “Don’t talk to Champion that way,” he said sharply.

“You care more about your precious dog than you care about your own wife,” she accused him as she struggled to her feet.

“Just don’t speak like that to the old boy when he doesn’t deserve it,” Frank said.

Martha leered at him, blood dripping from the cuts on her hands and mixing with the wine on the floor. “Screw you and your dog, Frank. You’re a couple of worthless old men, the pair of you.” She jabbed her bloody finger into his chest repeatedly to accentuate her point.

Frank was close to snapping. Thirty-eight years he had put up with this woman. For thirty-eight years he’d provided for her and their two sons. Every Friday night for thirty-eight years he’d brought this woman home a bouquet of flowers without so much as a thank you to show for it. Ungrateful, that’s what she was. The last ember of affection he’d nursed for her disintegrated to ash.

“Martha,” Frank said coldly, “touch me again and you’ll regret it.”

She threw back her head and laughed her great, braying laugh.

“And what are you going to do about this,” she asked, shoving him with her hand. “Or this,” she asked, shoving him again, “or-“

Before she could push him a third time, Frank snapped. He shoved her with all his might. Her body flew backwards, her head slamming into the banister. She crumpled into a limp little pile.

She was dead. Frank knew she was dead. He knew she was dead, and he also knew he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life in prison for killing her either. He knew what he had to do.

He whistled for Champion to follow him to the kitchen. The dog’s tail wagged when Frank grabbed the peanut butter from the pantry. Trusting Champion never suspected that folded into the delicious treat was one of Martha’s sleeping pills from the orange bottle over the kitchen sink.

Frank grabbed a small trash bag from the kitchen and headed to the garage to get a shovel and a ladder.

He was a strong man, but it took him all night to dig the hole. It was deep hole, oval in shape and not very wide. He knew no one would see him with the tall fence and thick shrubbery surrounding his property. He had no work and no plans for the next couple of days. He had time. At five in the morning, he took his wife’s body and a week’s worth of her clothes and dumped them down the hole, shoveling five feet of dirt back in on top of her. He walked towards the house with heavy steps.

Champion had been waiting for him. His brown eyes twinkled with affection as Frank let him outside into the early morning air. Champion nosed at him drowsily, his nearly white muzzle glinting in the pre-dawn light. Frank held Champion in his lap as he slipped the plastic bag over the dog’s head, cradling him until the kicking stopped.

Frank stroked Champion’s silky ears one last time as he lowered the limp, furry body into the grave. It was nearly ten in the morning before he tamped down the last shovelful of dirt. He put the shovel and the ladder back in the garage and went inside to clean up and get some sleep.

From all his experience in the force he knew they’d never find her body, not in his lifetime at least. No one would question such a small looking hole when they found out Champion had passed in the night from old age.Even if they brought cadaver dogs, Champion’s body would serve as a false positive; they wouldn’t dig any further. The Peterson’s would serve as witness to Martha’s inebriated, confrontational state, and Frank would tell the detectives that she went to her sister’s place to cool off. Plenty of winding roads between here and there. Besides, Frank had a sterling reputation among his fellow boys in blue. They wouldn’t suspect a thing.

Inside, Frank knelt beside the puddle of wine and glass and his wife’s blood, crying like a girl with her first heartbreak. He was sure going to miss that dog.

You Just Wait Until I Tell Genevieve

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Anna told the doll with the blue-stitched eyes all her deepest secrets and the doll kept them in her yellow yarn hair.  Her beloved Aunt Margaret had given her the doll for her seventh birthday just before school started, and Anna named it the most splendid name she could think of: Genevieve.

Genevieve sat on the bed keeping watch over Anna’s room on her very own lacy pillow. Anna was loathe to take her special doll outside lest other children besmirch the crisp, blue cotton dress or stain the cunning white shoes with their grubby little hands, and so Genevieve sat alone until Anna came home from school.

One day Anna came home in a rage. She flew up the stairs to her room and flung herself face-down onto her bed, not even bothering to take off her shiny purple rain boots. They dripped muddy drips on the hooked rug beside her bed as she poured out her woes to Genevieve.

Anna loved the swings more than anything else on the playground, especially the day after a good rain. She loved the way the fudgy mud looked swinging back, and the way her purple rain boots touched the blue sky swinging forward.

Today the boy in the red coat wanted to swing, but they were all taken. Anna explained very kindly that he could have hers when she was done if he would wait just a little while longer.

The boy in the red coat did not want to wait.

“Genevieve, he pushed me out of my swing and into the mud and my hands got scratched and now I have two pink bandages and one green one and I wish the boy in the red coat would get pushed and see how he likes it!”

Anna took a deep breath. She stroked the doll’s hair and felt a little better.

The next day at recess the boy in the red coat ran to the swings, pushing past Anna and the rest of the children.

Nobody saw quite how it happened, but they all saw the boy in the mud under the swings, crying with all his might and holding his broken arm. Anna and the other children stared at him in shock.

She confronted Genevieve as soon as she got home.

“Genevieve,” she whispered, “are you magic? Did you push that boy?”

She searched the blue-stitched eyes for an answer, but found none.

“Genevieve, if that was you, make there be cake in my lunch tomorrow. Please.”

Anna kissed Genevieve’s cotton forehead and went to eat her dinner.

There was no cake in her lunch the next day.  Although disappointed, Anna was not surprised; her mother didn’t believe in junk food, and a silly cotton doll wouldn’t change that. Resigned, she munched on her baby carrots.

“Hey Anna, my mom packed two pieces of leftover birthday cake in my lunch and I’m getting kinda sick of it. Want some?”

Anna stopped mid munch to stare at Olivia who had plunked down on the seat across from her.

“Sure,” she swallowed the rest of her carrot, “why not?”

The next week she asked Genevieve for a red balloon, a new pencil, a pack of gum, and three bags of sour gummy worms that she ate all in one sitting. The week after that she asked for an eraser shaped like an apple (because Gillian had one), a rainbow sprinkled doughnut, a pink party dress with lots of sparkles, two new pairs of shoes, and nine chocolate bars. The week after that she asked for three hair bows, a giant box of crayons, a bicycle, a gold heart necklace, a 5 lb bag of suckers that she stashed beneath her bed, a kitten, three more chocolate bars, and a cozy, bright pink coat.

It was the coat that caused the problem on Friday.

Anna was riding the school bus home, counting the number of red coats, five, and the number of blue coats, seven, and was beginning to count the purple ones when she felt someone poke her ribs.

“Whatcha doing?”

The girl was hanging over the back of Anna’s seat. Her coat was so white it made Anna’s eyes ache.

“I’m counting the purple coats,” she replied politely.

“What for?”

“Because I am and I can.”

“That’s dumb,” the girl laughed.

Anna clenched her mitten clad hands into fists.

“It’s not dumb,” she frowned, “and you aren’t very nice.”

“Like I care what you think,” she of the white coat shrugged, “but it doesn’t make counting coat colors any smarter. You’re just being stupid, and your coat is ugly.”

And with that pronouncement she sat back in her seat.

Anna’s face turned a brighter shade of pink than her coat.

“You’ll be sorry,” she muttered under her breath,“just you wait until I tell Genevieve.”

That night before bed she asked the doll for two things: for revenge on the girl with the white coat, and four more chocolate bars.

Monday at school Anna found out that a stray dog had bitten the girl and she needed seventeen stitches.

Anna felt giddy with power, and a little sick of chocolate.

That night at dinner she told her parents about the girl who had been bitten.

“And she needed seventeen stitches” she ended gleefully.

“Now Anna, that’s not very nice,” her mother scolded. “Why are you so happy she was hurt?”

“She made fun of me. So I had Genevieve take care of her.”

“What in the world are you talking about,” her father asked. He put down his forkful of meatloaf and cocked an eyebrow at her. Her mother took a drink of water from her glass and wiped her mouth.

“Genevieve,” Anna repeated, “I tell her what I need and she helps me.”

Anna didn’t mention all the candy, or that Genevieve was the reason her parents had bought her all those nice things lately. She saw the condescending look  her parents exchanged. It made her angry.

“Go ahead, ask me for anything. I’ll tell Genevieve, and she’ll make it come true. Go ahead. Ask.” Anna’s bottom lip trembled.

“Honey, that’s just not true,” her mother said.

“Anna, the doll is a doll and nothing more,” her father added, “that’s enough of that.”

“Daddy, just ask! She can give you anything!”

“Anna, I said that’s enough!”

Anna pushed back from the table.

“Genevieve is not a doll, she is my friend and she helps me!” she yelled. “She gives me whatever I want and she can hurt anyone who hurts me, even you!”

“Go to your room now, Anna,” her father commanded.

Anna rushed upstairs, furious. They should believe her.

They would believe her soon enough.

Anna grasped Genevieve tightly by her cotton arms.

“Make my parents believe me,” she took a deep breath, “or make them pay.”

Nothing happened.

For two entire weeks nothing happened. For two weeks Anna fumed and pouted and threw every kind of tantrum she could think of, but Genevieve no longer listened to her secrets. Her blue, unblinking eyes only stared into Anna’s brown ones as Anna by turns berated, pleaded, bribed, and threatened.

One day, in a black fury, she threw the doll across the room. Genevieve hit the wall and fell into a tangle of arms and legs, her smile stitched firmly in place.

Three days later, her parents died in a fiery car crash while out on a date.

When Anna heard the news, she rushed to her room and picked up her doll, her face streaked with tears.

“I take it back, I take it all back,” she sobbed, “let them live! I want my mommy and daddy back! Oh Genevieve, bring them back!”

From under Anna’s bed came a scritchy-scratchy sound. She turned just in time to see a most loathsome creature, muddy brown, with three black horns, sharp claws, and a long tail crawling out from under the bed. It smiled most patiently, revealing the sharpest set of teeth Anna had ever seen.

And then it spoke in a voice like squeaky cabinet hinges and rusty, clanging chains.

“No take-backsies.”

Anna was at once terrified and confused.

“Allow me to introduce myself. I am Reginald of the Underbeds, and it is I, and not the doll who has been granting your many wishes.”

“But, but then why did my parents die last night? I made that wish weeks ago. Can’t you bring them back? I didn’t mean it!”

Reginald gave a dry little cough.

“No. Take. Backsies,” he repeated slowly. He clasped his scaly hands over his portly stomach and made an apologetic little smile.

“And as to the other matter, well, you made so many wishes I was quite exhausted.”

Another apologetic smile.

“You see,” he said simply, “I was on vacation.”

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Four

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-In case you missed it: PrologueChapter one, Chapter two, and Chapter three.

 

Chapter Four

Secrets

     The morning of the tenth dawned bright and clear like every other morning as far back as Sara could remember. The blue of the sky matched the blue of the cup half full of tea she was still holding from earlier that morning. The tea was cold now. Her stomach rumbled for solid food, but she was too nervous to eat. At least she didn’t have to report to Assigned Learning until after her appointment.

Her lenses had kept her awake and in pain almost every night this week. Advertisements uploaded at random. A classmate sent her notes on their combined tribute to the First Inhabitant project, but they came through at three in the morning and in a language Sara had never seen before and that her lenses refused to translate. Her eyes were stinging and red. She still hadn’t taken her vitamins. Not trusting her lenses, she consulted her holo-pad for the time: nearing noon. She decided to leave now. The sooner this appointment was over, the better.

Adjusting her stance on her hovboard, Sara glided through the park and down a side street, careful to avoid the platform in the square. The second tier traffic was light today. Sara looked down at the first tier pedestrians beneath her feet. Most Inhabitants preferred to use their air-cycles or hovboards for efficiency as well as distinction. Walking was for the poor. Cars were for the rich. Sara looked up at the smooth-bottomed XI-47 humming six feet above her head. Like hov-boards, cars used the city’s magnetic grid to float above the streets, but in the third tier and twenty-eight feet in the air. The most expensive cars had a special tint to keep out the commercials that beamed in from every business in the city. Sara had never ridden in a car, much less owned one.

She clapped her hands twice to disengage her shoes from her hovboard, jumped off, folded it down to pocket size and walked towards the gray building. It was almost indistinguishable from every other gray building in the city, save for a stubby black cross above the main entrance that marked it as the only Health and Wellness Center in Barter. For the first time, Sara noticed how gray the city was, how smooth and free of color. The one bright place in the city was the park next to the Center, but even there the benches were gray and the walking path as well; all smooth and made out of the same metal as the platform in the square.

Sara shivered and shoved her hovboard in her pocket as she walked inside.

Black plastic chairs lined the waiting room on floor eleven. The walls were off-white, the tile floor two almost indistinguishable shades of gray. Sara could have sworn the floor was green the last time she was here. She closed her eyes and waited.

“Inhabitant Sara Todd, you’re super early,” Amie, the receptionist sang out.”Why don’t you just go ahead and wait in the room for the Doctor?”

Sara’s forehead furrowed as she stood to walk back to the secondary waiting room. This was going to be a long day.

Outside the waiting rooms Doctor Aliah was training a new technician to read the diagnostic screen.

“This is where I plug in the wires that attach to the patient’s temples” she pointed, “and here is where you will sort the information feeding from the lenses. Bugs and glitches in the software are sorted into the blue folder, everyday patient life into the yellow folder, and any potential misconduct or peculiar behavior is sorted into the red folder.”

Her eyes searched the young technician’s face.

“Do not delete or misplace any information, Ro. I will know, and you will be banished. You will help with three patients today, then report back to your Assigned Learning. Have I made myself clear?”

“Absolutely,” said Ro.

“Good. First on the list is Inhabitant Tovah Fields. Let’s get to work.”

The Doctor and her technician came into Sara’s room at exactly two o’clock. Sara lay half reclined on the chair, her eyes shut. The technician taped the wires to her temples and sat behind her, reading the information that flowed across the screen in her lap, her nimble fingers sorting the information into the proper folders. Sara opened her eyes.

“Where did you purchase the lenses, Sara?” Doctor Aliah asked.

“A bargain basement trader. Elias.”

“Ah. And how long have they been glitching?”

“Not long. I made an appointment with the General Health Doctor, and he told me I needed to see you. I made an appointment right away.”

Doctor Aliah looked at the technician for conformation, and Ro nodded.

“Good. Please be comfortable while I consult your chart,” the doctor smiled, and then her eyes began to twitch and blink as she consulted the information on her lenses.

Sara’s stomach burned. She had erased the note from Love, but a good technician could find just about anything. She couldn’t see the tech sitting behind her. She hoped it was Culper. He was too lazy to dig deep into people’s heads.

Ro recognized Sara from the lab class they shared, but said nothing. She was too busy looking at the note she had found from a former classmate, presumed dead. Definite red folder material.

Doctor Aliah stood.

“Let’s see what the problem is, Sara,” she said, walking towards Ro.

She consulted the screen behind Sara’s head, pressing the blue folder, then the red. Sara held her breath.

Doctor Aliah walked around to Sara’s right side, leaned on the chair, and pursed her lips before speaking.

“Inhabitant, is there anything you want to tell me before I alert the authorities?”

 

 

 

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Three

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-Feeling lost? Read the prologue here, chapter one here, and chapter two here.

Chapter Three

Take Your Vitamins

Sara’s body writhed in pain. She thought she heard her father’s voice, but then everything went black again. She felt as if she were drowning in the blackness. Even the circular room was a dull black; no doors or windows in sight. She heard the Voice speak again.

“Inhabitant, you have brought this pain upon yourself. Answer the question correctly, and all this unnecessary suffering will end. Inhabitant, what are the Five?”

The pain was less now, her head more clear. She stood up, defiant.

“My father said–” another wave of pain wracked her body and she fell to the floor. Her ears started to ring. Blood dripped from her nose and down her chin like gory face paint.

“Incorrect. Inhabitant, what are the Five?”

This time she could only prop herself up to reply.

“My father–” this time she screamed as her body spasmed. Every nerve was on fire.

“Incorrect. Inhabitant, what are the Five? Final answer before maximum pain is inflicted.”

Sara sobbed. She knew maximum pain would mean death. She also knew the Five stood for everything her father stood against, but what else could she do?

Sara closed her eyes and murmured, “Follow the Five, stay alive: Skipping a scheduled update is Not Allowed, Failure to report a glitch or malfunction is Not Allowed, Taking another Inhabitant’s updates is Not Allowed, Religious, Political, or Other objections or refusal of implants are Not Allowed, Removal of implants is Not Allowed.”

“Louder please,” the Voice demanded.

Now all Sara wanted was to end this nightmare and go home. She tried again.

“Louder please,” the Voice said again.

Sara took a deep breath, willing herself to use whatever strength she had left. She crawled to her feet, squaring her shoulders, and looked straight up at the ceiling. Sara screamed at the Voice. She screamed the Five to the emptiness of the black room, her words echoing, crashing into themselves and shattering, falling around Sara like confetti for a parade she didn’t want to see.

“Very good Inhabitant. And will you fail to report a malfunction again?”

Sara could swear the Voice was smiling. She grit her teeth.

“No.”

“Good. You may leave and report back to your dwelling for further instructions.”

A door opened in the wall to Sara’s left. Hot tears began racing down her cheeks as she staggered home with the knowledge that she had let her father down. Tomorrow, he would die.

 

 

 

Sara regained consciousness a minute or two later, still on the cold floor. The lights in the hallway seemed even brighter now. She groaned, propping herself up with her elbow and rubbing her head.

“Quite a fall you took, Inhabitant,” said a voice behind her.

Sara tried to stand up, but was too woozy to keep her balance and sat back down.

The Supreme Inhabitant’s son, Eli, squatted beside her, Sara’s holo-pad in his hand. He was in the same year as Sara, but she was training for a job as a product tester at Gryce Industries and he was training to take his father’s place. His smile was jovial, but Sara didn’t trust him. She said nothing and went back to rubbing her head, her eyes focused on the floor.

“I heard you got yourself in a little scrape today,” he continued, “but I’ll bet that adjustment did wonders for you. Then you got whacked on the head by a door. What a day, huh? Here, let me help you up.” Eli extended his hand.

Sara neither wanted nor needed his help. She stood up on her own and snatched her holo-pad out of his hand. Then she realized she probably shouldn’t offend someone so important. Part of her realized she didn’t care.

“Sorry, I’m not quite myself today. I have to get to class,” she mumbled and walked into her next classroom, this time avoiding the door. Eli shrugged and walked down the hall, calling out greetings to some of his classmates as he headed back to the Principal’s office.

As soon as school was over, Sara walked home. She was only too happy to put this day behind her.

At dinner, her mother was overly cheerful, the corners of her mouth pinned tightly into a smile.

“I heard someone got an adjustment today. A little out of sorts, were we? Well, I don’t like to say ‘I told you so,’ but I did. Sara, take your vitamins! You’ll feel so much better.” She scraped a bit of butter on her roll and stabbed at the peas on her plate, still smiling.

Sara nodded as she finished the last of her roll.

“I will. May I be excused? I have a lot to prepare for tomorrow’s testing and it’s getting late.”

The corners of her mother’s mouth came unpinned.

“Why are you doing this to me,” she hissed, “is this because of what happened with him?”

“You mean my father?” Sara said. She stood to take her dishes to the sink as casually as if her mother had mentioned a change in the weather.

“Are you malfunctioning,” her mother spat over her shoulder, still sitting at the table, “you know he’s Not Allowed.”

“And we both know whose fault that is, don’t we?”

Sara’s head was feeling sharp and clear as she reached for the vitamin bottle over the sink, opening it and shaking one white pill into the palm of her hand. She felt her mother’s hand on her shoulder.

“I just want what’s best for you, you know I do. Take your vitamin and get some sleep. You’ll feel better in the morning.”

She kissed Sara’s cheek and gave her a gentle squeeze.

“I love you Sara. Never forget that.”

“I love you too, mom.”

As her mother walked away, Sara looked at the little white pill. She felt a sudden urge to throw it as far away from her as she possibly could. Instead she dropped the pill down the sink, running hot water after. She shook her head, unsure why she felt so elated over such a simple act. It was only a vitamin after all.

The figure across the street that had been watching Sara through her kitchen window smiled. The Inhabitants were waking up. The time for revolution was at hand.

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter Two

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-Just joining us? Read the prologue here and chapter one here.

 

Chapter Two

Chickens

Sara ran her fingers along the spine of the thick, black book. She had never seen a paper book before. A civilization as advanced as theirs had little need of paper. She had found the book deep under Love’s bed wrapped in some old clothes; the girls were playing their favorite game, hide-and-seek. Sara couldn’t make out the words in the darkness and she couldn’t risk tapping the under-bed light on or Love would find her. She cracked open the book and put her cheek on the cool, delicate pages. She sniffed the book. It smelled like her Great-Aunt Linda – old and a little musty. She wondered where Love found such a thing, and why she kept it. Her stomach felt hot at the thought of breaking a Not Allowed. She heard Love’s footsteps by the bedroom door. “Saaaara, where aaaarre you?” Love giggled and pounced on the bed. Sara hastily put the book back and rolled out from under the bed, forcing a giggle as she admitted defeat. She wouldn’t ask Love about the book. She knew she couldn’t tell anyone about the book, not even her mother, or Love would be punished. Sara could never hurt her best friend.

 

“Call Doctor Aliah,” Sara commanded, squeezing her left earlobe to activate her implant for the call.

“Health and Wellness Center, Amie speaking, how may I direct your call?”

Sara squinted at the brightness in the receptionist’s voice.

“Hi, this is Inhabitant Sara Todd. I’m uh, looking for an afternoon appointment with Dr. Aliah to correct my lenses,” then she added, “Class 3.5.”

“Let me help you with that,” Amie gushed. “I have a three-thirty on the seventh, or a two o’clock on the tenth.”

Sara flicked her schedule up on her lenses, but all she could she was static. She tried blinking to refresh it. An image popped up that Sara had never seen before.

An electronic note from Love with today’s date.

“I’m not gone,” it read, “come find me. I’m with the Naturals. We have found the Better Way. Come find me.”

“Are you there, Sara?” the receptionist’s voice burst Sara’s concentration like a bubble. Sara gulped and the note vanished, her schedule in its place.

“The tenth,” she managed, “the tenth is good.”

 

Later during her first class at Assigned Learning, she puzzled over the note while the teacher droned on about the First Inhabitant.

Technically, the First Inhabitant no longer existed, and was therefore Not Allowed according to Lesser Not Allowed number twelve: Do not speak of the dead. The Pinnacle, the governing council of the city – of whom the Supreme Inhabitant was the head – got around this rule by erecting a life-sized statue of the First Inhabitant and every Supreme Inhabitant after. This way the students could learn of their brilliant leaders without committing a crime. One year a student asked why only the Supreme Inhabitants could cheat a Not Allowed. He was absent from class after that. Nobody asked why.

The First Inhabitant was a doctor. He lived with a group of people whose pursuit was the longevity of life through body modifications. They invented the first crude implants and founded the city of Barter that Sara now lived in. It was more of a town back then.

Sara’s thoughts drifted back to the note. It had mentioned the Better Way, something she and Love invented when they were twelve, bored with learning and big with ideas and dreams.

The Better Way was a simple wish list, a child’s fanciful daydream. There would be no implants or checkups with needles or sore eyes or stinging fingers. They would not be dizzy for days after new ear implants. They would not need to memorize The Five rules or any other Not Allowed’s and they could have whatever job they wanted. They could leave the city. They would even have dessert for breakfast if they liked.

And they would find the animals. Only a few animals remained in the city, and the Inhabitants were not permitted to see them unless assigned to care for them. The closest Sara had come to seeing a cow was the burger on her plate.

Sara’s father whispered stories to her at bedtime about things his father had told him at bedtime, stories passed down from generation to generation. It was Not Allowed, to be sure, and if Sara’s mother ever found out, she would turn him in for telling such lies, but Sara treasured those stories.

Her favorite story was about chickens. One of Sara’s ancestors had been a farmer. He raised chickens, cows, pigs, and horses. He had four cats and three dogs. He even had a few goats. Sara thought that was a funny word – goat. Her father would say it over and over again until it no longer sounded like a word and Sara’s laughter threatened to wake her mother. Then she would beg him for the chicken story.

The farmer had a little girl, just like Sara. Her job was to feed the chickens and collect the eggs while avoiding Solomon, the mean-spirited rooster. Solomon’s black heart delighted in chasing the little girl, pecking at her and digging her with his sharp spurs. One day the little girl had courage. She picked up a stick and fought back. When Solomon came towards her, evil eyes agleam, she clubbed him so hard he flew to the other side of the coop. Solomon walked with a limp ever after, but never bothered her again.

Sara’s father was an animated storyteller, flapping his arms like wings and bobbing his head to pantomime Solomon, with an expression on his face he insisted was evil but it made Sara laugh.

That was eleven years ago. Sara wondered if the note meant Love had found a chicken. She laughed softly to think of Solomon and the little girl of long ago.

“Something you’d like to share with the class?”

Sara’s head snapped up from the desk. The teacher was standing in front of her, his arms crossed, one eyebrow cocked.

“N-no sir, Inhabitant Palmer,” she stammered.

He looked down at the holo-pad in front of her and she realized too late that instead of taking notes, she had been doodling  farm animals. He took the pad and held it high for the class to see.

“I see you do have something to share with the class,” he said in a mocking tone, “things that no longer exist. Class,” he continued, walking back towards the front of the room, “if something no longer exists, what is it?”

“Not Allowed,” they chorused.

“Very good, class,” he put the pad on his desk. “And what is the penalty for a breaking a lesser Not Allowed such as drawing things that do not exist?”

“A visit to the Principal,” they chorused.

“And what happens in the Principal’s office?” he asked smiling, his voice as smooth as butter.

“You get adjusted,” they chorused.

The teacher sat on the front of his desk, arms crossed, still smiling as Sara rose from her seat to go to the Principal’s office. She willed herself not to cry. Maybe she did need an adjustment.

There were no such things as chickens anymore.

 

The Principal looked down his beak-like nose at Sara sitting in the plastic chair in front of his desk. He tented his fingers, tapping them three times on his chin before speaking.

“Tell me why you are here, Inhabitant.”

“I broke a Not Allowed, sir,” Sara said softly, “I drew creatures that do not exist.”

The Principal stood, walking around his desk and behind Sara, his fingers tapping the back of her chair tap, tap, tap.

“And why did you draw these, these creatures that do not exist?”

Tap, tap, tap.

Nausea rippled down Sara’s spine like ice water.

“I don’t know,” she said.

“You don’t know.”

Tap, tap, tap.

Sara could feel his breath on the back of her head. She fought back the urge to vomit.

“No, sir.”

“Well then, let’s get you adjusted and back to class so you can become a productive member of our grand society.”

The Principal pressed his pointer fingers into Sara’s temples.

“Now,” he smiled, “this won’t hurt a bit.”

Sara walked down the harshly lit hallway towards her next class with swimming eyes and a head full of fog. She had needed the adjustment, she thought to herself. She had been right to turn in the Brinkles. She was wrong to have drawn the creatures that do not exist.

A piercing whistle sounded. Sara looked up just in time to realize she was standing too close to her classroom door, but too late to avoid the impact as it flung open. She fell backwards, arms outstretched, and the last thing she remembered hearing was her father’s voice.

How foolish. He no longer existed, and was therefore Not Allowed.

The Drying Effects of Wind: Chapter One

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-If you missed it, read the prologue here.

Chapter One

Execution Day

Three Inhabitants stood on the gleaming metal platform in the square. One male, two females.

All three guilty of breaking the Not Allowed’s.

The Prosecutor read their charges from his Class 6 lenses to the crowd in a booming voice. He waved his hands about in a grandiose fashion, parading back and forth across the platform in a way that distracted from his under-average stature.

“Inhabitant Arthur Brinkle, you are charged with attempted and/or successful removal of your implants and inciting unrest against the Supreme Inhabitant which is Not Allowed. The penalty is death by banishment.”

The accused Inhabitant was young, in his mid-fifties, with brown-black hair and a neatly trimmed beard. He looked neither ashamed nor afraid to hear his sentence pronounced.

“Inhabitant Mattie Brinkle, you are charged with attempted and/or successful removal of your implants and inciting unrest against the Supreme Inhabitant which is Not Allowed. The penalty is death by banishment.”

Mattie looked at her husband with a small smile and reached for his hand, but a guard tased her and she screamed, falling to her knees. A murmur hummed from the crowd. Surely even a rebel deserved some small measure of mercy. The Prosecutor hurried on.

“Inhabitant Love Brinkle, you are charged with attempted and/or successful removal of your implants and inciting unrest against the Supreme Inhabitant which is Not Allowed. The penalty is death by banishment.”

Love was still a child at twenty-three. When the Prosecutor announced her fate, she thrust both fists in the air and screamed, “Down with the Inhabitants!” before the guard could step in and tase her too. That settled the crowd in square opposition of the accused. The Inhabitants hadn’t done this. They hadn’t forced the girl or her parents to remove her implants. They were not pronouncing a death sentence on a child, the child had pronounced it upon herself and they washed their hands of her.

The Prosecutor lead the way as the guards marched the condemned Inhabitants down the shiny platform’s steps and along the road that threaded through the city towards the gate. Inhabitants lined the road the entire way. Some looked sorrowful. Some jeered curses and insults. Others were silent, like Sara.

Inhabitant Sara Todd stood deep in the crowd by the gate, swirling with emotion. Love had been her best friend since they met in Assigned Learning at the age of ten. Sara herself was twenty-three just last week. Maybe she was still a child, but she knew better than to remove her implants, no matter how they plagued her. Yet Love and her family had done just that, and had tried to encourage others to follow their example. It made no sense to Sara.

Love even made wild claims that the city smelled of rot. She said the grass in the city park was plastic. She said the food they were issued daily had little flavor and less smell, that it was a lump of vitamins and nutrients to sustain life, nothing more.

The lies her parents told were even worse.

The Inhabitants could clearly smell the crisp, clean fragrance of the city, feel the softness of the grass, and the food – the food! –was daily manna from the Supreme Inhabitant himself. Muffins studded with blueberries and dripping with butter, peaches downy soft and juicy, steaks smothered in crispy onions with great, fluffy baked potatoes and even fluffier rolls; how could she deny this bounty they could see and smell and touch and taste and even hear for themselves?

The crowd was silent as the procession approached the gate.

“Do the condemned have any final statements,” the prosecutor boomed.

“We did no wrong. May God have mercy on our souls,” Mattie Brinkle said, squaring her shoulders.

The crowd tittered at her foolishness. Souls and gods had been done away with eons ago.

“My only hope is that you see the light, as we have,” Arthur added.

Love had been searching the crowd when her eyes locked on Sara’s.

“’Call unto me, and I will answer thee, and shew thee great and mighty things, which thou knowest not,’” she quoted.

The crowd hissed. Quoting from a banned book was a lesser Not Allowed, to be sure, but still; the audacity of the child to heap sins on her head even as she faced execution.

Sara shrank deeper into the crowd to escape further unwanted attention.

The heavy gate cracked open as the guards forced the Brinkle’s out into the Unknowns, the  unprotected and unfiltered region beyond the city’s protective gates.

Nobody survived the Unknowns.

The gates, now shut, flickered to life, a giant screen. It was mandatory to watch the rebels pass into the EverAfter, and watch the city did, with bated breath.

First the man fell to his knees, fingers clawing the hot, red dirt as he gasped for breath. Without his implants to filter out harmful toxins in the air, his lungs shriveled and his nostrils scorched. His wife ran to him, an expected display of devotion, but she too succumbed in the dirt beside her husband. The girl was the last to die, tears streaking her face, one hand reaching back towards the city in a gesture of longing and regret.

Sara let out a quiet, shuddering breath. She tried hard to convince herself that she had done the right thing by turning in the Brinkle family, but she kept seeing Love’s agonized face as she died. She walked back to  Assigned Learning  with guilt gnawing at her backbone. What did it matter what Love said to her anyway?

Love was dead. It was finally over.

The Drying Effects of Wind: Prologue

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Sara looked into the bright light for several seconds, then closed her eyes. Immediately the commercials began to play. They glitched between a new meal replacement pill flavor, a smiling woman advertising gum you didn’t have to chew, Gryce Industries’ latest air-cycle model, and a few others before the doctor told her to open her eyes.

“Well, I can make adjustments,” he said, “but your lenses will need to be reprogrammed by a specialist.” He consulted her chart downloading to his Class 8 lenses, flipping pages with a few flicks of his right eye.

Sara briefly wondered what it must be like to have Class 8 lenses. Hers were barely Class 3.5, and only because she had scraped together enough credits for the update from her Class 3’s. She should have known not to trust that bargain basement trader again, but the update had seemed a bargain too good to be true. Now that her lenses were glitching, she knew why.

“Fortunately, this is all covered on your plan, so the procedure shouldn’t cost more than four credits.” He smiled at her reassuringly. “It won’t hurt a bit.”

Sara sank into the hard plastic chair. She’d heard that lie before.

When a child is born, they are taken to a specialist for mandatory procedures. Eye lenses for information and communication, nostril implants for unpleasant smell reduction and contamination identification, ear canal implants for noise adjustment and sound filtration, an implant under the tongue to adjust taste and temperature, and various implants in several fingers, such as magnets and computer chips. The implants are updated every three to five years without fail. This is all done in the name of health, the name of longevity, and the name of Progress.

Sara was twelve when her implants began to fail. She had a cold, and the hot tea her mother made her had tasted terrible. She spat it out and refused to drink any more of the stuff. That is when she started going to the doctors, and that is when the lies began.

Follow the Five, stay alive.

Skipping a scheduled update is Not Allowed.

Failure to report a glitch or malfunction is Not Allowed.

Taking another Inhabitant’s updates is Not Allowed.

Religious, Political, or Other objections or refusal of implants are Not Allowed.

Removal of implants is Not Allowed.

-Rhyme taught to children at school