I highly recommend reading while listening to piano music.
For 15 years of Tam’s life, she had been able to shield herself from the guilt. The guilt she felt every night when she heard her mother and father stumbling out of our home in the ground. Their sunken eyes recognized nothing but the call of the bell.
At 15 she was supposed to be strong like her sister. But all Tam could do was huddle under her thin sheet, and pray she could forget her mistake.
~6 Years Earlier~
The curiosity in my young mind had pushed my self control to the limit. and tonight it broke. Hearing the soft, “dong, dong, ding” I waited for Casey and Dave to climb up the ladder before I followed and crept to the surface. Even though they my parents, they were strangers to me, just two more mindless zombies. Blood didn’t make them worthy of the endearing terms, mom and dad.
As I ascended, my hand gripping the cool, smooth wood of the ladder, I could hardly believe I was really doing this. When I reached the surface, I was so shocked, and the wind was knocked out of me in forceful impact. Hundreds of people just like my parents were filtering into what I had thought for years was an abandoned warehouse.
I slipped into the crowd attempting to blend in. My nerves were on edge and I felt ultimately conspicuous. Everyone was much older than me, and I stuck out too much for comfort.
Suddenly, their hollow, seemingly unseeing eyes were replaced with ravenous ones as their anticipation grew.
Frightened, I hid in a dark corner. “Glad to see you back.” A smooth, calm voice said. When I squinted to see who the voice belonged to, I noticed that the speaker looked familiar. I’ve seen that fake smile somewhere before. After a few seconds, I realized where I’ve seen her before.
I don’t know quite where I was, but the words, “Vote for Melissa Raymer” were printed in red, bold font. The contrasting color is imprinted in my memory.
As I was reminiscing, the droves of zombie-like people had received a glass of pale blue liquid. Most had already drunk it. The ones with some left, were looked upon fervently by the others.
“So, are you all enjoying your beverages?” her voice dripped with sarcasm, though I suspected the adults were too drugged to notice. They all nodded, looking dazed and docile. Some looked even a little giddy.
“See you all tomorrow?” Melissa knew it wasn’t a question. The adults were hooked and the effects of the blue liquid so strong, I doubted that even if they could find the willpower to quit, they would suffer extreme withdrawal symptoms.
As the crowd left in unison, a few stragglers hung back hoping to sneak one last drink. But Melissa stood patiently for them to leave. With her preoccupied, this was my chance to get escape, run home and cry myself to sleep, even if it was futile. I imagined the chilled air and the taste of the damp earthy darkness enclosing me. I can almost feel my own clammy cheek clinging to the damp pillowcase. I wish I could say I have a good imagination, but one only knows from experience.
If I retreated back home now, my curiosity would never be satisfied. I was compelled to fulfill my intense craving for adventure and risk. I no longer wanted to be the same girl living in a metal box under The Great Wastelands(TGW), barely surviving with her sister, too tired to fight over food.
I peek through the glass door while admiring its crystal clear smooth gloss. Nobody in the Grids or under TGW can afford luxuries like that. No one is there.
For a moment I wonder what it would be like if I were Melissa: I would be powerful, wealthy and in control of half the population. I expect to feel a rush of jealousy or greed to infiltrate my morals but what I feel is an abrupt hollowness and it sickens me.
Why does she want this? Why am I caught up in this, when I could be complaining about my empty stomach, shoving my fist hard into my gut trying to wait till morning to eat. That was the sort of problem that I could deal with, but not this. Not a government conspiracy, not a population addicted to this drink.
I had always wondered why there were no uprisings or rebellion about the divide. The rich lived without a care or want in the world, but we were their slaves.
Tears of selfish regret flood my eyes and I let them fall onto Melissa’s desk. I blink hard and drag myself across the dusty ocean and to the familiar surroundings of my home. A plaque reading, “Grid #389” marks the place where I dwell.
Overcome with relief, I limp down the ladder and into my bed like a wounded animal. I am sore and exhausted from my adventure. My last thought before I succumb to my fatigue is that an animal can either heal or die, I can’t do either.
I take out the crumpled piece of paper and precious pencil from my baggy jeans and read the miniature lettering:
Each September, all the 21 year olds are peer pressured into going to the warehouse.
I silently will myself to pull my eyes from the page. I already know what it says, but it doesn’t make it any less excruciating. She had protected me all my life and now what?
Don’t forget! Vara’s 21st bday in two days! 9/5/3126
~10 Years Earlier~
“Tam don’t touch that!” Vara placed her hand on her hip and stared down Tam until they both burst out in giggles. Contorting her face, it once again became stone. “You know, sometimes you act like a real 5 year old.” “Am not! I turned 5 ½ two months ago!” Reluctantly Tam groaned and walked away from the snake she had been watching, pulling herself to her chubby little feet. To Vara’s relief, she quit dragging behind for a bit.
“How much longer?” “And just when I had started to think you were just as good as a seven year old.” Tam’s face straightened and her chin lifted an inch. Vara smiled. Her sister’s pride was not something to be messed with, and that would keep her busy for the remaining ½ mile.
They reached the abandoned gas station and the two teased and threatened each other with silverware for quite some time until Vara approached Tam. “Tam come look!” She followed Vara to a small corner of the building. A small flower was there. The sun’s rays from a window fell upon it, and the velvet color of the petals looked majestic. Tam outstretched a hand but Vara pulled it away.
Vara condemned her, “Are you really going to pick it just to have it for a day, and it die the next. Even when it tried so hard to bloom.”
Tam hugged Vara’s legs and looked up reverently, her amber eyes swelling with love and admiration for her older sister. Then she wiped a small tear and said “Va- Vara, I promise I won’t do it again. I’m sorry pretty flower.” Vara laughed and hugged Tam as they left.
That is just one of the memories that replays when I stroke Vara’s head. She was the family our parents couldn’t give us.
Tonight I have to decide. Tonight, so much like the one 6 years earlier. I could stay here, oblivious, safe. Somewhere in me I know I cannot do that, it doesn’t seem right or fair. In a world where everyone only does things for their own interests, Vara should be something worth fighting for.
I slip up the ladder and plod along in the black desert before I can change my mind.
I am in the dark, but I can still sense the presence of a shadow of the building. I step inside, pressed to the concrete walls. I slide across the main room against the thin buildup of condensation. I unconsciously go to Melissa’s office and don’t stop myself since I will be improvising this whole time.
I look around the room. There were test tubes everywhere and the walls were lined with vials of blue liquids. Powders in pouches were carefully labeled and organized.
I think to myself. The best solution would be to distribute an antidote to reverse the effects. My starts to move a little faster. Talking out loud helps. “Their brains will have been dulled and their brains cell depleted, so we need to find a way to stimulate that. What makes my brain go? Well certainly trying to find this antidote is. I laugh at myself pitifully, but feel a trigger going off inside my skull. Finding. Learning. Discovering. Being curious.
Scrambling around the room, I found just what I needed. Luckily we had recently been starting learning chemistry in school, and I had a certain knack for it. I was lucky to find it in Melissa's desk, I assume she uses it to boost her brain power when researching.
It is a small pouch of powder labeled “cognipetere curafact”. Like caffeine, it wakes the brain, but also compels it to learn. It creates curiosity.
I need to make a large batch before the bell rings! Frantically, I take a deep breath to help me plan this out.
“Oh well. Is it not my precious little pencil thief. Have you come to stop me? A little girl like you? All alone? Did you think you could just barge in and me not notice?! Ha! Even if you succeeded do you know what would happen? People would start to think their own thoughts, and from that comes conflict. And when there is conflict, people die. Do you want your precious Vara to die?”
I don’t know how she knows so much about me. She must have gotten me on camera and researched my background all those years ago. And what is she talking about, “People would start to think their own thoughts, and from that comes conflict. And when there is conflict, people die.” I want to be strong but I am so afraid. Will I be killed? Will Vara? What will happen to everyone else?
“Uhh,” is all that I can say. “Ha you really are such a delicate little flower. I would have thought that someone with enough confidence to come here could at least speak to me.”
“A… delicate… flower?”
“Yes I suppose I said that? ...What’s wrong? Feeling insulted? Afraid of being picked and left to wither and die?”
I remember that day. That small flower. I have always thought of myself as that flower. Running away to escape being picked and then thrown away. I thought I was defenseless. But I am not that flower. I can protect myself now. Because really, the only thing that ever held me back was my fear of being snapped at the stem without second thought.
I lunge at Melissa, but she is expecting it. She swiftly knocks me out.
I wake up to a wad of cloth in my mouth, and hands and feet bound.
“I’m surprised at how fast you recovered. Not bad. Now, let’s see if you can recover from this.” She takes the gag out and my eyes fly to the cup of blue liquid in her hand. “Drink up!” Her nasty grin widens as she forces me to swallow.
I am in a world of darkness. I feel a drowsiness, and I want to sleep, but I realize I already am in it. Then the flashbacks start.
“Tam don’t cry over mom and dad. They never loved us anyways.” “B-but” “Tam, that’s just the way it is. We don’t mean anything to them.”
“WAHH!” “What’s wrong Tam?” I show her the gashes on my back. “Tam let’s get you cleaned up.” “W-why? Why would they do that?” “It’s ok Tam, you’ll get used to it.” Vara looks at me sadly.
“Tamryn keep your eyes at your desk! If I catch you looking out the window again, we will confiscate your lunch this week.”
I feel something pump into me. It numbs the pain. I just want to let it swallow me. It is hopeless, how could I ever think that I could make a difference in all this. Just forget it all even happened… NO. Vara still needs me. They still need me. I can’t be selfish and give in to my own wishes. I need to wake up! I need the antidote. But I can’t get it while i’m out. I need the real thing.
I start thinking of all the things that make me curious. Why is the sky blue? How to ants know how to walk in a line. What do tigers look like? I feel my eyes fluttering. I just need one last push… the one question that I yearn to know the answer to. What would it be like to live where you can think whatever you want?
My eyes peek open and I find I am in a bed, but my hands and feet at still bound. My eyes are red. Was I crying?
There is no time to waste. Melissa, gone.
I wriggle out of the bed and waddle till I find the cup I drank from. I smash it on the ground and maneuver the shard around to free myself. I take no notice of the blood on me. I am not afraid of being hurt anymore
This time, I tell myself, I will be more careful. I tiptoe lightly around until I find myself back in Melissa’s office.
It is now or never. I rush toward her, and sending the vial she is holding to the ground. A small drop ricochets into her mouth, and she is sent unconscious. The liquid preyed off my fears and insecurities, my bad times.
I wonder what happened to her to make it effect her so strongly. I shake my head at her pitifully.
Well… I suppose you are surprised to find out that this flower has thorns.
I smile at the eyes in the room. They are the eyes of someone who has suddenly awakened from a nightmare. They look at one another curiously. I see Vara in the crowd and rush to her wordlessly.
“I’m not a flower anymore,” I tell her. She is confused, but her arms wrap around me and I don’t care. I am loved and I am strong. I Tamryn Andinite, am loved and strong.
Because nothing can stifle the thing deep inside that makes us human. Our craving to understand what is around us, and to fill our souls with the mysteries of the universe. Our curiosity burns bright, and we all start to outgrow our flowers.