Only one day is left before I will go back…back there. I am finished writing my story. It is our story: the story of those who were killed for sucking the marrow out of life, for living freely, for simply living. The computer screen is shining brightly, staring back into my eyes. Product of Society, the finished book is named.
I look out the window of my apartment and down at the street below. The same cars pass monotonously below me, just as they have for the past two months. They religiously follow a repetitive, never-ending, daily routine. It doesn’t seem like freedom to me. We’ve come full circle, friends.
A little bird is watching me from the park outside the window of my apartment, dancing from branch to branch underneath the sun in an oak tree. It is a robin, and is much like any other robin one might see while outside on a warm, clear spring day like this one. Except that it isn’t…this one is looking at me. That makes a difference…I take a seat on my two-person couch and turn the TV on. Veia is sitting beside me.
“Thank you. Thank you for everything, Tristan…Ivan,” she says. Our story has been written. We will live forever in the ink on the pages. Flick. The TV comes to life.
“Police now have a lead on killer Ivan the Terrible and hope to soon have him in their custody. Stay tuned!” A formally dressed blonde woman is barking live from the newsroom. “Brace yourself, Mister Terrible. There’s nowhere for you to run.” As if I didn’t know that already.
“Were you everything you wanted to be?” Veia pokes my shoulder.
“I suppose I was. All I ever wanted to be was anything that I wanted to be.”
“Oh, love, the world just doesn’t allow that.”
“It certainly doesn’t, yet I was regardless. So yes, I was what I wanted to be. I lived a hundred lives in the time of one.”
“Then you’ve nothing to fear in death. There’s only one thing left to decide.”
“And what might that be?”
“How do you want to go?” She and Shadowshade ask in unison. I’ve known the answer to this for years. Soon it will become as clear to them as it is to me, but not just yet.
“Twenty-two years, five months,” I say absentmindedly.
“That’s how long I’ve been alive, or at least my best guess at it. I don’t really know for certain. It feels like so much longer.”
“Oh yes, that tends to happen when you fill your days with many things.” The reporter on TV recaptures my attention.
“We have Ivan the Terrible’s very own sister here to comment on the brother she hardly knew.” There is Anna. She’s wearing a rose-print dress, her brunette hair pulled back into a bun. ‘Neo-Mennonite’ is the first thing that pops into my mind as I watch.
“I hope they find and kill him soon. He’s utterly repulsive. He is unrepentant of his sins. He…” Click! There shall be no more of that. I shut the TV off. Anna is the girl who once told me she loved me, the girl who ran away with me, the girl who I dreamed for so long of being with again, the girl who I gave my virginity…the girl who eagerly awaits my death. Society has taken my own sister away and turned her heart against me. That’s what it seems to do best.
“Stupid shit!” Veia screams at the TV.
“Stupid shit!” M.’s voice screeches inside my head. Veia chose her words poorly.
“Oh. Right. Sorry.” She looks back over at me. How could she know what that phrase did to me? Maybe she’s an empath like me, gazing into others’ emotions as clearly as if they were swirling wildly ‘round and ‘round inside a crystal ball.
The sun is setting in the sky now, and we watch the beautiful molten amber streams of light slowly give way to the dominion of the moon. Will this be the last time I’ll ever watch the great ball of fire vanish behind the horizon? It is quite possible, yet I am not afraid. It isn’t as if I have anyone left to watch it with. They’ve all been taken by a world that seeks to destroy whatever it cannot comprehend.
“I’m getting tired.” She yawns and slides the back of her hand across her sleepy eyes. A melancholy sense of finality fills the air as we make it back to my soft double bed. This is the last time my head will ever lay upon a pillow…the last time I will ever have a dream. The bed sits in the back center of the bedroom, but the doorway soon seems a thousand worlds away. I hope my final dream will be an interesting one. Maybe I’m already asleep.
Maybe I’ll wake up at Anthony and Cindy’s, ready to be shipped off to military school. No…I’d rather not. Impending death seems far more favorable. As I slip away from consciousness I look to the pillow beside me, and Veia is no longer there. Damn. Maybe it really was all a dream. Maybe she has woken up and escaped from this world.
In my dream I’m sitting in a theater, watching a film roll by on the screen. A sixteen year old girl is seated in the back of a completely silent classroom. Her hair is as snowy white as Vera’s had been. She wears loose fitting blue jeans and a T-shirt bearing the words ‘I AM ME’ across the chest. She made it herself. She lifts her ebony-skinned face from her desk to gaze around the room, and a rude tight-ass Catholic school teacher waltzes in.
This is definitely a Catholic school, no doubt about it. The young girls around her (who are all separated from the boys because of lethal cooties and because kissing ‘makes your lips burn until all that is left is ash, and gives Satan an orgasm’) all wear their school uniforms. They’re the kind of outfits the boys might ask them to keep on during sex. The girls are terrified of what might happen if they come to school looking any different. However, this girl is quite different. She is just as afraid as the rest of them, but her courage overpowers her fear. She’s taking up the fight for freedom.
“Andrea Dubois, what in our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ’s omnipotent and boundlessly holy name are you wearing? You are to report to the dean’s office at once!” The ugly woman shouts and sneers. Drea stands from her desk and struts out of the room with dignity. The other girls stare, bewildered by the event. A few of them snicker, but many are filled with hope…hope that they might one day be able to learn while looking like something other than walking Catholic billboards. This day will only come if they make it so.
“And Drea, you are not your own! You do not belong to yourself! You are not your own person! If you retain nothing else from this class, remember this! You are a slave to God! You belong to the church! You are property of the school! Don’t you ever forget it, child, lest ye burn for all eternity in the fires of hell!”
The words travel into one of Drea’s ears and then out the other. What was it that the woman said? Damn, she forgot. Damnation! Go to hell, do not pass purgatory, do not collect two-hundred dollars. Oh well. She’ll live. Drea is an intelligent girl. She realizes that Mrs. Whatever-her-name-is is merely trying to manipulate her fear with threats of burning agony in order to take control of her life. It isn’t going to work on Drea, not today. She slams the door as she leaves, to the cheering of well over half of the class. Drea is their crusader now, their groundbreaker, just as I have been for so long.
“Shut up, you filthy little whores!” The teacher screams in anger.
“‘Whores’…such a revealing insult, don’t you think? Just last week, Mrs. Teacher’s husband was found in bed with a younger woman.” A shadowy shady voice begins to softly speak into Drea’s ear. “Now ever young girl in the world is a whore in her eyes. She envies their beauty and youth, and she believes this gives her the right to make them feel like shit about themselves. One might call this ‘Jealous Bitch Syndrome’ (JBS).”
Nevertheless, the jealous bitch in question is the authority here. The society has given her the ability to destroy these girls’ futures by ruining them with a giant ‘F’ and holding them back in school. What a well thought out system…no, what a pity indeed.
The class eventually settles down and the day’s lesson begins, if it could even be called a lesson. It certainly is a different lesson than the one spattering out of her sour mouth. After talking to the dean, Drea will be sent home for the day. She will be immediately suspended if she returns tomorrow without wearing her individuality draining uniform.
Before going home she must retrieve the books that are still sitting underneath her desk. All of these are textbooks, all but one. At the bottom of her stack sits a book quite different from those that have been issued to her by St. Holiness’ School for Young Ladies of Everlasting Purity. Across the cover of the bottom book is the title Product of Society.
“Don’t give in,” Shadowshade whispers in her ear. “Mention her husband. Let her know that his infidelity doesn’t give her the right to label all of you as prostitutes. When brother brings his girlfriend home the bedroom door can shut, but if she’s not a virgin then she’s treated like a slut!” S. has always been good at getting under people’s skin, mine especially.
“Sir Jumpsalot…” Veia’s voice has snuck into the dream. I jump up out of my bed and quite literally fly straight through the ceiling. Kablash! The roof of the apartment explodes into nothingness as I shoot farther and farther up above the glittering city lights and into the clouds. I begin to feel warmer, hotter, then burst into flames like a rocket ship leaving the planet. Now everything is gone. Just like that. Poof.
“Stay quiet. Don’t move. We can’t let them find us.” A voice I don’t recognize warns me. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Stomp. Hundreds of boots stomp into the earth all around us. I still can’t see a damn thing, but I can hear the sound of screaming.
“Get down, now!” A woman calls out from the madness. I know this voice. It belongs to none other than Dee Gaggles. “Veia, get the fuck down!” She’s even louder now, but it doesn’t matter anymore. My vision slowly starts to materialize. The scene around me is just a swirling blur of psychosis, but I can sort of discern what’s happening. I see it…two men in dark uniforms raise their pistols in the air. They’re police. They’re aiming right at her, right at Veia. My heart is no longer beating.
“Fucking stupid little bitch! This’ll teach ya! You think you can just go around bein’ homeless? Ha! Die, you dumbass junkie whore!” Bam! Bam! I see it happen more vividly than I hear it. My ears have stopped hearing. I see an image of her lying there on the table in Dee Gaggles’ shack later that night. She is no longer breathing. I am no longer breathing. This is really happening, or at least it really had.
Dee runs toward Veia with a man who I recognize as Boodis. He scoops her up in his stocky arms. There are more officers around them now, barking commands of annihilation. More and more of our protesters fall into the streets on all sides of them, covered in blood. The life in their eyes is gone. The hope in my eyes is gone.
“Ivan…” Veia’s fading voice speaks quietly and the group begins to flee. It’s a complete and total massacre. We never stood a chance.
“Motherfuckers!” Dee screams while looking over her shoulder, pointing a silver revolver back at one of her pursuers. Veia has departed. They took her away. Bwam! An officer falls into the blood that now runs like water down the side of the road. Dee is a good shot.
“Die, you fuckin’ druggies!” One of the cops screams again. Five more of the Products of Society plummet face-first into the earth. We’re being destroyed. I stand up from behind a tree that I’ve been crouching behind and wildly chase after Veia and Dee, trying to run away from the slaughter. The effort is futile.
“Eat lead, dirt-bag!” Another one of the state’s robotic automatons squeals, spits some bile into his hands and rubs it into his face for good luck, then levels his 9mm at my face. I’m not even armed. The explosion devastates my ears as all goes dark.
“The fight was a catastrophe, your numbers were too small. They must grow much larger to make any change at all.” Doesn’t S. know that I’m trying? I jolt awake, glazed in a cold sweat that lightly glistens on my face. Veia isn’t in bed with me. Instead she’s dead, just like the others. At the end of my bed is a…what the hell is it? Bing! Bing! ‘Tis a pinging ping-ping pinball machine. Ping! Ping! What is happening to me?
“Want to play a game?” S. asks playfully.
“Um, okay, sure.” The rainbow lights on the machine spin and grin maniacally. Weeeooo! Weeeooo! It sounds just like the sirens on top of the cop car, the one I drove over the bastard who tried to take Scéléra in. Have the authorities finally come? Has the system finally crushed me? Is this the end? They’ve found me more quickly than I anticipated. I leave the bedside and run back into the living room to look out the window that I adventurously licked a week after settling in. No one is here. Not yet. Shadowshade is playing tricks on me.
The siren noise must be coming from that pinball machine, along with the pinging. Yes, that has to be it. But how did a fucking pinball machine get into my room in the first place? Things like that don’t usually stop by spontaneously. I slowly make my way back to my room. The noise has stopped. The pinball machine is nowhere to be found.
“Ha!” S. cheers happily. “That was the game.”
“It wasn’t very fun.”
“Pssh! Speak for yourself, friend.” My heart is still racing furiously, but still I try to fall back asleep. It’s only three in the morning, according to the clock. It doesn’t take long for my heart to slow and my eyes to close…
“Tristan?” It’s Anna, little Anna. We’re in our room at home. The light from the hole in the ceiling is shining brightly onto the floor like a golden laser-beam. In her hand is The Very Hungry Caterpillar. It feels like there is menthol flowing all throughout my veins. It’s coming from the book. It’s the familiarity. That innocent little squirmy wormy fellow has seen all of the same horrible things I’ve seen. He was there.
“I love you,” she says. “I’ll never go away. Wherever you go, there I’ll be, and you will always be with me.” I desperately want to believe her, but adult Tristan…Ivan…has become quite jaded. He knows how the world can change people, and he’s the one dreaming the dream.
“I love you too, Anna. I’ll be here for as long as you want me.” We share a kiss in the darkness, still too young to have been told how we’d be viewed for doing so. We’re still too young to have ever seen the sun, apart from that golden beam inching across the floor. It feels just like it felt then. My heart giddily bubumps in my chest. ‘Tis a splendiferous splendor indeed. For a moment, time is unmoving. Everything is perfectly still.
Looking back, it seems that perhaps we suffered more at the hands of the things outside those walls than at the hands of those within them. The world had been even crueler than father, in my opinion. If I would’ve known that that would happen, I might have let Mother succeed in murdering us. Maybe that would have been better. Maybe.
“I’ll always want you, Tristan.” If only she could see the future, she would know this was a lie. But alas, life doesn’t seem to work quite like that.
“With all of my heart.” But one day she would, with all of her heart, announce her wishes for me to be apprehended on national TV. She’s the girl who now thinks of me as a monster. It has been my experience that promises are of little actual worth. They’re broken so often. They’re just words, really, but we believed in them so strongly back then. Knock. Knock. Knock. A rapping at my chamber door! Who can it be? Father…he’s a tall, strong, horror of a man. We are to give him what his wife no longer wishes to provide. We are his toys, his sex toys, really.
“Time to play daddy.” A bright elated smile spreads across his face. “Who wants to play first?” We don’t raise our hands, for we only want to play with each other. We don’t want to play with him. “Kiss, kiss.” He comes closer. He will pay one day, somehow, someway.
Just before he reaches out to grab Anna, he is gone. What? This isn’t how the story goes. He vanished into thin air. Poof. Just like that. This is rather odd. It’s a strange feeling when someone vanishes into thin air unexpectedly, but unexpected happenings seem to have no intention of coming to an end just yet. The floor underneath us splinters and splits apart. The beams under out feet aren’t even there anymore, and we’re sent tumbling down through the air.
“Tristan!” Anna screams in terror. She tries to grab onto me, but there isn’t enough time. I expect that we’ll fall down onto the first floor of the house, into whatever room is below us. That isn’t what happens. We fall faster and faster…
“Come here! Come here now!” A voice angrily calls after us. It is Mother’s voice. She sounds incredibly displeased. I look up. She is falling too, much faster than we are. She’s still thirty or forty feet away but the gap is closing. She’ll be upon us in no time at all. She is wearing an apron over her sooty dress…she must have been busy cooking or cleaning or doing some other chore before all of this began.
“Tristan! In here!” Anna calls out to me, just outside of my arm’s reach. What the fuck is that? Just on the other side of her is a large metal elevator attached to some sort of pulley system. It hangs from the room that now is far, far up above us. She opens its side door and hops in, then glances over at me. She’s anxiously waiting for me to join her. I pull my body through the air with all of my strength, making my way to her inch by exhausting inch. I finally grab her outstretched arm in exasperation and she quickly pulls me inside. The door slams shut behind us.
“Tristan, what’s happening?” Her eyes scream in silence. I pull her into me and hold her close, not knowing how to answer her question.
“I don’t know.”
“At least we’re together now.” She anxiously buries her face into my shirt. This is a horrifying ride in her eyes, I assume, but I find it to be pretty thrilling. Thud. Something lands on the roof of our plummeting cage-like contraption. I know already what…who…it is.
“What the hell is that?!”
“Mother.” The word escapes my lips like a festering demon. Poor Anna gasps in terror.
“I’ll kill you, you little bitch!” Mother wails like a sickly banshee outside. The fog of nothingness has cleared, and we’re now only a few hundred feet above the roof of a building…a very familiar building. It’s the school. It’s the old abandoned little school. The elevator has suddenly become quite familiar as well. Soon it will crash through the ceiling and Mother will chase Anna up and down the halls. I’ll be locked in the eventful battle with Marcus. We’ll soon crash through the glass. The roof is coming closer, closer…Anna and I brace ourselves for the inevitable impact. My rumination is consuming me.
“Ahhh!” She is screaming even more loudly than she’s crying. Click. My eyes fly open. I’m back in my apartment, lying wide awake in bed. My alarm blares its alarminesses annoyingly, letting me know that 9 a.m. is here at last. It is morning. It’s a very special morning. This is a morning unlike any I’ve ever had, for this morning is the very last that I shall ever see.