~Chapter 1A- Population Control~
The waters outside my home were lit a bright orange. Normally around this time, dad and I would play on the beach until the sun finally set. But dad hadn’t been home for awhile. Not since he left a week ago.
Me and Melissa’s brown hair was soaked by the ocean’s water as we splashed around and swam deeper in. She was helping me to take my mind off my dad. She was always great as that over the years.
While we played, an unassuming and scrawny boy with unkempt black hair waded in shallow water. Melissa had started inviting him over ever since we stopped some kids from picking on him at school. The three of us were eight at the time.
Our dad’s didn’t like us spending time with Arturo though, especially Raul, Melissa’s dad.
“He’s too weak. Kids like him won’t do well once they’re adults. They hold the rest of us back. He won’t last long after he turns 18,” Raul educated us, stroking his beard as spoke, “He’s not like you two. You two have that indomitable will that this country needs more of.”
I splashed some water at Arturo, but he just stood there. I threw more at him to try and entice him to splash back, but instead he sauntered away.
“Don’t run away! I’m just playing,” I remarked.
“I’m done swimming,” Arturo continued to trudge out of the water.
“Don’t be such a pushover. This is why those kids at school picked on you.”
“Juaquin!” Melissa chided me.
“It’s true!” I insisted.
“It’s not.” Arturo started to dry himself off and put his clothes back on.
“You can’t be so weak Arturo. My dad said that they take weak people away.” I attempted to enlighten him.
Arturo glared at me intensely. There was anger in his eyes.
“Juaquin! Apologize!” Melissa demanded like a stern mother.
A pang of guilt hit my chest and I managed to say, “I’m sorry... I didn’t mean it.”
Arturo looked at me, he knew I meant it. Nevertheless, he said, “It’s okay.”
He laid back on the sand and looked up at the sky. Melissa and I continued to swim around in the water, albeit much less enthusiastically. Eventually the last bit of sun dwindled away beneath the horizon. The three of us walked up the beach back home.
away beneath the horizon. The three of us walked up the beach back home.
Mom came out from the porch of our picturesque white house, followed by Yolanda, Melissa’s mom. Mom had a slight bulge in her belly from my coming sibling.
“Juaquin!” My mom yelled, anxiety clear in her voice, “It’s your dad!”
Without hesitation I sprinted to the house. I noticed a military vehicle parked out front. When I stepped into the house, there he was. Dad was in a wheelchair being pushed along by Raul and another soldier in the traditional white and blue uniform of the Rhiveran Military. Raul’s uniform had a decal on its chest to indicate his rank as Captain. Dad wasn’t conscious.
“What happened?” Mom asked in duress.
“Captain Neruda was injured.” The soldier said. I looked down at my dad’s legs. They were limp, and there were a dark muddied bandages over his thighs.
“I’ll fill you in later Maria.” Raul said as calmly as he could to my mom. I was used to his more flippant self, but Raul was clearly distressed.
Melissa and Arturo entered the house. Raul grimaced at the sight of Arturo, “Maria, can you send the Montoya boy home? There’s no reason for him to be here right now.” Raul demanded, referring to Arturo.
Arturo said he hoped my dad was okay and headed home. Meanwhile, Raul and Mom had settled Dad into his bedroom.
“Your dad needs his rest. You can see him tomorrow.” Raul said as he gently shut the door.
“That soldier said he was injured.” I pointed out, “What happened?”
“He-He...” Raul stumbled over his words, nervously picking his beard. He looked scared, “I’ll tell you in the morning.”
I didn’t get any sleep that night. I just kept thinking about what could’ve happened, pacing quietly in my room upstairs so as not to wake anyone up.
Every once in a while I’d make my way downstairs and peer into dad’s bedroom to see if he was still asleep. Mom was sleeping in the guest bedroom, she really wanted to give dad his rest that night.
I turned the TV on mute to help pass time. I wasn’t really watching any of the channels, just trying to keep my mind occupied. The news channel headline caught my eye though.
‘The Rhiveran Liberation Army Strikes Again’
A rough picture of a sinister thin faced man in a green camo uniform appeared on screen. It was Eduardo Santoro, the leader of the RLA. A group set on challenging Population Control. The military managed to kill their previous leader, but Eduardo took over the RLA after him, turning it into a terrorist group. Dad and Raul dealt with them a lot.
I checked on dad again.
“Juaquin?” My dad mumbled. I swung his door open with excitement, climbed up onto the bed and hugged him. He hugged me back softly. “Hey bud.”
“Hi dad.” I released and sat on the beside him on the bed. “What took you so long to get back?”
My dad softly chuckled. He didn’t seem to have the same high energy as usual, but I figured that was because he just woke up. Using his arms as support he raised himself to look directly at me. “A lot has happened.”
“A soldier said you were injured. What happened?”
“Yeah...” My dad paused, “Juaquin, do you remember what I told you about the RLA?”
“Well, a week ago I went on a mission to bring down their leader. We found him, but they captured us.” My dad swallowed hard. “They killed everyone except me. Raul saved me yesterday, but their leader got away. Santoro shot me in the legs before they could rescue me.”
That explained why he was in a wheelchair. I asked, “Can you walk?”
“How long until you’ll be able to walk again?”
Dad stammered to answer, “I--, I’ll never be able to walk again.”
I froze up. All the implications were settling with me. We wouldn’t be able to play on the beach like we used to. Anything like that... But at least he was here.
“Juaquin, do you know what that means?”
I didn’t know what he expected me to say, “No.”
“It means Population Control will probably take me soon. ”
“Oh, will they fix your legs?” I said, completely unaware of what that truly meant.
“No. No. They’re going to kill me.”
“What! Why?” I stammered.
“I’m too weak now to take care of myself. I’d just become a burden on you and your mom. I’m sure Population Control will take me soon.”
“That-- that’s not fair! This only happened because you were trying to help!” I yelled. “They can’t do that!”
“Juaquin, that’s how things are. It’s for the best. The government will take good care of you and your mom because I worked in the military.” Dad justified, “I’m sorry bud. I’m sorry I never explained this properly to you before. I never expected this to happen.”
I couldn’t comprehend life without dad. “Will it hurt? When they kill you?”
“No. I don’t think so. It’s supposed to be like falling asleep.”
I didn’t say anything, I just sat there quietly for awhile. Dad always exuded strength, but in that moment he looked weak. I could tell he hated it.
“That’s why you’ve got to be strong.” Dad broke the silence, “If you’re a strong hard working person, Population Control will never touch you. Not until you’re a very, very old man. You have to be strong so you can take care of your mom and your new sibling when I’m gone.”
I smiled a little bit. “Of course I’ll be strong dad. I’m your son.” I said. I hugged him again. “I love you Dad.”
“I love you too Juaquin. So, so much.”