This novel is limited to 100 free copies due to its part in Inkitt’s Novel Contest.
‘How can you dream?’
Not a question a sixteen year old should ask, but I guess you aren’t here for a story about a teenager in high school. Who was I kidding? I had typical problems: boys, friends, curiosity, a crazy family, discovering the unknown… the list could go on. If you’re here for that, you’ll be surprised. Closing the book now is your best option if you want something involving a stereotypical drama. This isn’t that kind of story… for a while I doubted it was even mine. You think a scrawny, asthmatic sixteen year old would amount to anything? Neither did I. I laid low, tried to fit in, and didn’t look at myself compared to the beauties in the class. I was unwanted, unloved, but, more importantly, in this world, different could get you killed.
I laced the ties of my black boots, making sure each bow was tight and symmetrical. The shoes squeaked on the concrete floor, and the dull metal walls of my room blended with the flooring. My plain khakis were neat and cuffed at the hemline. I tucked in my freshly ironed black polo shirt. A Commander approved C was stitched in the fabric on my chest. Anything without this seal got me in trouble for dress code. I grabbed my gray jacket and buttoned it to the collar. A single pocket stitched in the design held a spare pencil. Fortress Military School’s dress code was the worst!
’That should do it.’ I released a puff of air, relieved to be done.
Turning to my desk, I reached for an empty vial labeled ‘CURE: TAKE NIGHTLY. DECREASES THE BRAIN’S RATE OF CREATING NONSENSE AND PROTECTS AGAINST EXPOSURE TO RADICAL IDEAS FOR UP TO TEN HOURS.’ If it weren’t for the vial, my life would be uncertain. They recycled the plastic containers for future uses after cleaning. I grabbed the vial and exited my room, the door creaking shut behind me.
The smell of porridge overtook the house. I ran down the stairs. A long hallway separated me from the kitchen, the wall littered with laws encased in black frames. Our metal house was cold and bland, but it was home.
“Calista? Is that you?” Mom’s voice echoed down the hallway.
Mom’s voice carried from the kitchen, the way nagging mother voices often do. “You better hurry, or you’ll be late for class!”
My eyes widened. “Just a sec!”
I threw my vial into the recycling can and sat at our circular metal table. Clean plates were laid out for four people, and a fifth was messy, crumbs lying on his side of the table.
“I’m guessing Ambert left in a hurry again?” I gave Mom a hopeless expression.
Gran was less polite about it, her voice rasping with disgust, as she hobbled to her seat, assisted by her cane. She adjusted her overlarge red sweater as she sat, the material draping off her frail body. “Does that boy ever clean?”
“Let me help you, Gran,” I stood from my seat at the table, and drew her chair out for her.
“Thanks, Missy,” Gran sat and smiled at me warmly.
I returned to my seat, not saying a word. My fingers twiddled in my lap, waiting for Mom to set breakfast on the table.
Mom set the plates on the table and took her place beside me.
“Is something wrong, Calista?” Mom asked.
I nodded. “Just worried about graduation.”
Mom smiled. “I know, Darling.”
Gran smiled. “It was different when we grew up.”
“Really?” I asked.
Gran chuckled. “We didn’t graduate at sixteen. We left high school at eighteen, and back then, we had all kinds of classes: engineering, music...”
My mother’s eyes widened. “Ma, if someone found out you’re talking about radical ideology...”
’Music? Never heard of that before...’
“Sugarcubes, Suzanne. Can’t I tell a couple stories to my granddaughter? Besides, you enjoyed those classes too...” Gran smiled.
“Mom? You!?” My jaw dropped. That couldn’t be right. That was radical ideology. My mom wouldn’t start a rebellion.
Mom placed a hand on my shoulder. “It’s none of your concern now, Calista. We can’t do those things anymore. We just need to stay in the system, keep our heads low, protect each other…”
I startled - only a little - as the kitchen door slammed behind me. A moan grew as father shuffled into the kitchen for the coffee pot. He poured himself a cup, and took a seat at the table.
I bowed my head respectfully. “Father…”
“Hello, Sweetheart,” He sipped his coffee, grumbled, and cleared his throat.
His stern gaze met my own, bags under his eyes showing how dedicated he was to his work; the misty gray color appeared haunted by the past lingering behind them. His hand ran through his salt and pepper hair, exposing streaks of gray. A few wrinkles etched his face, with prominent ones on his forehead and a few near his eyes. His posture was rigid in his chair, not letting his back arch for even a second.
Mom cleared her throat. “Hugo, we weren’t expecting you back.”
“The world’s unpredictable, Suzanne. I easily apprehended the criminals this morning,” Father sipped his black coffee.
“What was it this time? A rival gang?” Gran asked.
Father chuckled. “Even worse. Artists. Scum of the earth if you ask me.”
“Artists?” I asked.
Father looked me in the eye. “Just more radicals breaking the anti-dreaming and creativity laws. One step in their direction and we’ll all be sick.”
“Hugo, Calista doesn’t need to be exposed to…” Mom started.
Father raised his hand to silence her, waiting for my response.
“Of course, Father,” I said, lowering my eyes from his gaze.
No one wanted to see my father angry. His work sickened me, but he could never know. He was just as controlling as The Regime, if not more in my personal life.
“That’s my girl,” Father smiled, “You know, I saw your report card this morning.”
I raised an eyebrow. “But the school board isn’t giving those out until next week.”
“If you thought you could hide it from me, you’re wrong,” he spat in my face.
“I-- I’m sorry,” I mumbled.
“Overall, I was pleased, but your physical education grade is unacceptable! Sweetheart, you’ll never take a place in society next to me if you don’t try in gym class!” Father sighed, pinching the bridge of his nose. Father always loved his recognition. Sometimes, I felt as if he loved work more than his family, from all the time he spent at it.
“But I can’t think about my future. That’s The Regime’s job.” I looked back to Father.
It was true, as much as I didn’t want it to be. The Regime would choose what I did, based on a mild skillset. Developing unique skills was the root of all evil, and punishable by death. More than likely, I’d end up marrying a total stranger by the time I turned eighteen. I was never into guys, let alone anyone for that matter. If Father knew, I’d probably be dead.
I sighed, and gobbled down my eggs.
Mom smiled and rolled up her gray sleeves. “I remember when school was a happy place. You enjoyed making friends, having fun, and…”
“Not practical. The Regime outlawed dreams, creativity, and ambitions to stop wasting time on worthless crap. Boys go to the army and those with contained skills continue their education. That’s better than the… dreaming. It’s a disease, manifesting itself in the weak.” Father rose from the table.
He placed his cup next to the sink and glanced into the recycling bin. A scowl formed on his face. He took a tablet from his black jacket, and typed on the high tech screen. He could report a radical if needed. The year on the screen read 2519.
My eyes widened. He wasn’t going to report his own family, was he? He cared about us over his job, right? I bit my lip, trying to not twiddle my fingers or make a sound.
“Hugo, what is it?” Gran asked, her eyes filled with worry.
Father clenched his teeth. “I’m gonna kill him.”
“Hugo, what’s wrong?” Mom placed her hand on Father’s shoulder.
“There’s only four Cures in here. You know it’s important to take one, and it’s my duty to uphold the laws! There should be five in here. One of you didn’t take it last night!” Father snapped.
“I put mine in there, Father. Honest,” I said, lip quivering in desperation. It couldn’t have been me.
Father smiled in my direction. “I know, Sweetheart. You know the rules,” he paused. “But whoever didn’t take it is as good as dead. You know the penalty for not taking it, Suzanne! Death!”
“But it wasn’t your son. You know he gets up early to go to work. And you marked his vial with an A. It’s right there.” Mom pointed into the bin.
Gran chuckled. “Hugo, someone probably forgot to throw theirs away. I’m old, for heaven’s sake! Do you think I’ll always remember to throw that stupid container out?”
“It’s okay, Father.” I smiled.
Father chuckled as he eased his nerves. “That’s my girl. Run along. I don’t want you to be late.”
I nodded and grabbed my red backpack. Father’s eyes widened and he stopped me from heading out the front door.
“Never forget your scarf. If your clothes look different, they’ll report you in the watch list. I wouldn’t want to take you to The Executioner’s Graveyard for a minor misdemeanor.” Father tied a black, red, and gray yarn scarf around my neck, making sure the shorter part was in the front.
I nodded and released a deep puff of air as I left the house. I wouldn’t see Father until late at night, if I was lucky.
The way my parents talked about dreaming made me curious — unnaturally so. What’s it like to dream? I read all The Regime policies I could on it, but there was no definition to what it really was about. It was a fantasy in a far off land; unattainable.
I spent many sleepless nights on research, and used my laptop to try to find all I could about dreaming. But with a government lock over what could be seen, any research at all was difficult. Under my sheets, I could ask all the questions I wanted to, even if all I got were government provided answers. Father would never let that stand.
Each time someone passed my door, my heart pounded. Father could never know. Otherwise, people would start saying Curiosity killed Calista. It was a secret kept between me and my laptop, making sure to use Father’s firmware. I didn’t want to join hundreds of bodies in an unmarked grave.
Technology remained the same in our modern age, allowing us to grasp what we had rather than develop new concepts that could backfire. I’d rather be safe than radical, even if I was a little curious.
As I walked to school, people whispered in corners to make certain no one overheard them. Smiles vanished when a government car rolled down the avenue. No one had the nerve to make a sound on the streets, leaving them cold, bleak, silent. A single voice rang through speakers, reminding citizens of the order put in place.
“Remember to obey the rules and regulations at all costs. Alert the nearest official of suspicious figures. Follow to achieve and trust those who lead. Anyone who becomes a radical will be put to death.”
This voice regularly reminded citizens of the system put in place. Those caught breaking regulations were put to death by executioners.
All, but one.
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