I was back in my fifth- year class, and we were sitting in a large circle. My instructor was sitting in a chair at the head of the circle.
“Alright children. Come up to the front and share something unique about you. Carmin, you go first,” the instructor told us. I marched up to the front of the room proudly and straightened out my dress.
“I sing good,” I stated surely, in my fifth- year talk. My instructor’s eyes widened in fear, but she couldn’t stop me. I opened my mouth and let out the most beautiful melody I could. The sound whisked and swirled through the air like clouds in the sky. It filled the room, making the other children gasp. They had never heard music before. The instructor ran up to me and cupped her hand over my mouth, a look of terror in her eyes. However, she was too late. There was a loud banging on the door, and a deep voice angrily stated, “It’s the police. Open up.”
I gasped, opening my eyes suddenly. It took me a moment to adjust to the light in my room. The first thing I saw were wide eyes peering at me from the dream table.
“Randi, were you watching my dream?” I asked angrily. I didn’t need an answer. I saw the cords attached to her small forehead that looped over to mine. Randi looked down guiltily.
“I’m sorry. You were humming, like you do in your sleep sometimes, and had to see why.” I ripped the suction cups off of my face. They stung, but I barely noticed. I simply couldn’t believe her.
“Well, now you know. Get out of my room.” Poison was dripping from my words.
“Causing conflict is not a good way to start your morning, Carmin,” the thickly accented voice from the speaker scolded authoritatively. I groaned and looked at the red eye. It was plastered above my mirror, looking down on me disapprovingly. I was so sick of having no privacy! I had no time to be alone, away from the judging eyes of the world.
“Apologies, Mother,” I replied robotically. I glared at Randi, huddled in a corner. “Randi, would you be so kind as to give me some…” I scoffed at the word. “privacy?” Randi stuck her tongue out at me and left. I noticed there was no peace announcement for her. I sighed. I hated fighting with my sister, but I knew if she found out having a talent was not only a dream, she would tell Mother just like she had been taught. Then, I would be cast out, never to be heard from again. I shuddered at the thought.
All of a sudden, I heard a shuffling sound outside, and I rushed over to my window seat to see what was happening. There was a young man, maybe in his twenty- fifth year, dragging a microphone to the center of the cul-de-sac. I gasped, knowing what he was going to do. He marched up to the microphone and started singing. Slow and sweet, not even that loudly. I couldn’t pick out any English words or a specific melody, but I knew that it made me feel calm. I smiled and swayed to the song, until I heard a whistle. Startled, my eyes shot open. A police officer ran up to him and grabbed his arm. “NO!” I screamed, and then covered my mouth. I quickly drew my curtain and covered my mouth with my hand. I had never heard anything so enchanting, so intriguing. And he was going to be punished for it! That just wasn’t fair! Nobody knew what happened to those who used their talents in public, but it was tragic in the event that someone was taken away. Everyone who lived in the cul-de-sac that the mourning family lived in went to the mourning party. It was a sad occasion, almost like a death.
I took a moment to recollect myself, and then frantically asked into the microphone: “Mother?” I heard some static, and then her voice. Not stopping to listen, I blurted, “What happens to people when they show they have a talent in public?” All I heard was white noise. “Mother?”
“Hurry down for breakfast, Carmin. We were sent pumpkin pancakes in honor of the season.” I squinted. She didn’t answer my question, which made me very uneasy.
I smiled slightly as Cheerio walked into my room and licked a couple of tears off of my face. Why was I so upset? I sighed and got up from the windowseat. I might as well get ready for the day. I dressed quickly into my usual clothing: a gray knit sweater with jeans. I brushed out the long hair that stretched down my back and threw it into a large, tight bun. Looking down, I noticed Cheerio wagging his tail at me, so I picked him up into my arms. Flipping him over on his back, I ticked his stomach as he squirmed and tried to lick my nose. I looked into his small, brown eyes and sighed. Cheerio was the only innocent soul I knew. I gently set him down and he was in such a hurry to run, he almost did a flip. I giggled, as he goofily stuck out his tongue and ran out of my room. In a hurry to catch up with him, I pulled on my tall, black leather boots.
“Cheerio!” I called, just before running into Mother. “Oh, apologies Mother,” I whimpered. “I didn’t mean to run into you.” I sheepishly smiled, hoping she’d forget about this and this morning’s ordeal.
“Forgiven,” she muttered and flicked her hand as if to push me away. I left, but studied her. Her cold features were sharp and clean, unflawed. She was beautiful, but in a cold way. You could tell she used to be a sweet, soft girl, but her experiences had made her strong. I wondered what had happened to her to shape who she was.
I walked over to the Giving Hole and collected my hot pancakes with maple syrup. I stabbed my pancakes with my fork and brought it to my mouth. I tasted the sweet, sticky goodness I only tasted on varied occasions. Gulping down my breakfast faster than Randi, which was a rare occurrence, I rushed to pack my bag.
“Where are you going in such hurry?” asked Mother, her accent thickening. I braced myself for the worst. Whenever Mother got most annoyed, her accent would flare.
“School,” I said coolly. “Today we have an assembly and I don’t want to be late.”
“Manners come first, remember.” I rolled my eyes.
“Of course,” I said sweetly. Mother’s stare became more intense. When I got to my sixteenth year, the sweet act didn’t work as well. It was hard getting used to that. “Thank you Mother, for providing money for this meal. Thank you Cooks, for giving your time for my meal. Thank you Leaders, for giving us cooks to cook our food. Thank you Lord, for allowing me to be here to eat my meal,” I recited, smiling the fakest smile I could muster.
“Sincerity would be a good lesson for you to learn,” Mother said coldly.
“That was sincere! I am thankful for all those things!”
“It is hard to forget being grateful, am I wrong?’ Mother said, in her Russian way.
“Apologies for being forgetful. Bye.” I rushed to the door.
“Carmin, get back here now!” Mother hollered. I ignored her until I got through the door onto the doorstep. I smirked, and opened my big mouth.
“You know, I’m good!” I said cheekily in a mock-accent and walked out the door. I was a full thirty seconds faster than the rest of the cul-de-sac and got onto the Transportation first. I sauntered to the back of the bus, grinning to myself. Who cares if she was gonna get mad at me?
I stared out the window until the Transportation pulled up to the bus stop in front of the school. I liked the feeling of winning. Like I accomplished something. I only felt bad for snapping at Randi for watching my dream. She was only in her tenth year, and music was such a forbidden concept, she grasped it whenever possible. I’d have to apologize to her later.
“Carmin,” the Head Instructor said, stopping me in my tracks. “Running down the halls insinuates haste, and haste leads to conflict.”
“Yes sir. Apologies,” I said. I mouthed off to Mother many times before, but never to the Head Instructor. He looked at me with a hard expression.
“I have forgiven worse,” he muttered and walked off. I shuddered. I was told never get on the bad side of the Head Instructor. He can make you leave school forever and never get an education. Then, well, we’ve all seen the poor on the streets, begging for food.
I walked over to the gymnasium, in a hurry not to miss the assembly. When I arrived at the sweat-stenched gymnasium, there was almost no one there. I was early! I beamed, feeling important. I sat in the front row, and crossed my legs.
I sat there for about twenty minutes, waiting for everyone. Finally, at exactly eight-twenty five, everyone poured in, walking in straight lines like robots. The Head Instructor got onto the stage and stood there patiently until everyone was seated.
Nobody noticed that I was there twenty minutes early.
Head Instructor began speaking in a slow, soothing way.
“Children, good morning.”
“Good morning,” muttered everyone at the same time.
“As you know, our cul-de-sac communities were formed to protect us from JEFS: Jealousy, Evil, Fear, and Self-Doubt. The four Major Issues our founders discovered were wrong in our world. They looked into these virtues and noticed the one thing they had in common. All of them were induced by feelings of having a lower worth than another individual. That is why we formed the law against performance and talent. That way, no one is better than others at anything. Is this understood by all?” A robotic murmur went through the crowd. I noticed that they all said the same thing, even if it wasn’t clear. I thought they said, “Understood.” I felt uneasy that I had not felt the urge to do the same. Head Instructor smiled as if he had won a prize and gazed at the crowd thoughtfully.
“However, as time went on, everyone was out of practice and it was rare to find someone with talent.” My eyebrows shot up. “Recently, a group of rare individuals joined together to bring talent back into the world. Now why would they do that?” Maybe because not being able to express our emotion through art creates more feelings than just JEFS? I thought, rolling my eyes. “They call themselves ‘The Rising’. They sing a certain song that triggers a hormone in the brain. This hormone makes expressing talent feel as if it were a necessity.” He seemed to shudder at the word talent. “People who have heard it describe it as ‘without a true melody’. What are some symptoms? It makes whoever hears it feel calm and also,” I could have sworn he looked at me when he said this. “they become immune to Calming Medicines.” Of course! The pancakes we were served this morning had the medicine in them, and they made everyone calm and orderly. My eyes widened. I had been under the spell these medicines cast before, and I had never been aware of my surroundings like I was now.
I suddenly couldn’t breathe. This couldn’t be happening. I didn’t do anything wrong!
“Remember,” he added. “If you have experienced this and admitted it, you will be set free. If you keep it a secret, you will meet the same fate those who express talent meet. Dismissed.”
I sucked in a shaky breath. I wanted desperately to tell him, but something inside me stirred. It told me no. I definitely would not be set free. It frightened me to even think of the consequence.
I lined up in orderly fashion with everyone else. I tried to make it look like I was a robot as well, quiet and blank-faced. Head Instructor walked straight up to me with Assistant. He smiled a gruesome smile and nodded to Assistant.
“I must have been wrong about this one. She is as controlled as the others.” It took all I had to not scream. “We’ll need to adjust her medicine. My guess is she eats earlier than the rest and so the inner clock runs faster than the others. Make it work slower for meal number two, house eight on cul-de-sac fourteen.” Assistant nodded, not saying a word. Sighing, I knew it was not over yet.
When we got back to homeroom, everyone’s faces relaxed. I could tell that they were awake and aware again. I relaxed a little too, on the exterior.
“Great assembly,” Faye said to me cheerfully. “Who knew that ‘The Rising’ was even a thing?” I shrugged. “It was fortunate we got to sit next to each other, Carmin,” she giggled. I gave a sad smile. I didn’t even sit near her.
The day was fairly normal except for one thing. Our history instructor told us that we would no longer have history class for the rest of the year. I couldn’t help but notice that we were coming up what the book called The Renaissance. I wondered if it had to do with that.
On the ride home from school, I noticed the Transportation Operator was acting strangely. He was sweaty and red, and he was almost panting. Disregarding this, I took out the book we were required to read, JEFS Protection. It was so boring so far, talking about what Head Instructor told us at the assembly, almost word for word. All of a sudden, I heard a shriek. It was a freshman girl sitting behind the Operator. I glanced at the Operator, and he was slumped over like he was asleep. I had no idea what was going on or if he was okay, but I did know that no one was driving anymore. “Can anyone here drive?” I screamed, but knew the answer. President had outlawed anyone driving until they were in their twentieth year, to control the F part of JEFS. Fear. Nobody felt safe driving on the same road as someone in their sixteenth year anymore.
I felt a jolt and looked out the windshield. We had been hit by someone behind, and now we were falling, nose first, off of the road and down a hill. I screamed and covered my face as I felt us start rolling.