(Oh, and if you’re new, I’m doing this short story thing once a week. So yeah.)
Oh, but before I go on, I have a little announcement to make. A dear friend of mine has just started a blog at this site. She’s really an awesome person and she’s the one who read this story first. Trust me, you’ll want to hear what she has to say. So go there!
Okay, back to the story.
“Why wouldn’t you want to go?” cried Jayden, springing out of the chair. He was quiet no longer, an inner fire set aflame inside him. “Look at that man on the screen! Don’t you hear him? Don’t you see what he represents? He wants to keep us all in the dark, Kate. Him and the Administrators, they’re keeping us locked in these rooms on purpose. Don’t you ever wonder why it’s so wrong to see each other in person?”
“Contact leads to conflict,” I recited. It was one of the first things we learned in school.
Jayden scoffed. “Does this feel like something evil to you?” Before I could stop him, he lunged forward and took my hands in both of his. I shuddered at the contact, so intimate, so warm, so inherently wrong but so immediately right. Memories of my younger self, of my mother, flitted across my mind. It had been eleven years since I had been touched. Eleven empty years, though I hadn’t known it until now.
As if mocking my memories, the man on the screen noted, “Rule Eleven: all children will be reared by their mothers until the age of seven, at which time they will be given an Apartment of their own and become full citizens.”
A strange longing rose up inside me as I stood there. My gaze shifted from our hands to Jayden’s eyes, brilliant green beneath the dense, curly brown of his hair. Maybe it was just my imagination, but suddenly those eyes seemed unimaginably sad.
He stared back at me. “Kate,” he murmured, and his words were more deliberate now, “I trust you. I like you. You’re my best friend. I know you’re smarter than this. There’s a whole world outside that courtyard. The Apartments are built to keep us in, to keep us from being free. You know it’s true.” I wanted him to stop. I wanted him to keep going. I didn’t know what I wanted. “Kate, all anyone is concerned with is whether their favorite TV character will be on for another season, or with how many Network friends they have. It’s not right. There’s so much more to it—to life—than this.”
Jayden’s words rang true—at least the part about the television and the Network. But where had he gotten all of those other ideas from? This was all there was: watching shows and following people like Angela from the comfort of your own Apartment. That was it. Or was it?
“I—I don’t know…” I whispered, trying to take everything in at once and failing. Our faces were just inches apart. “How do you know there’s even anything out there? The war…everything was destroyed…”
“I’ve seen it, Kate. There’s still a world outside. And not everything you see in a show is fantasy. Squirrels and rabbits and flowers—they exist. Everything that’s supposed to be made up is real. They’ve been lying to us the whole time.” His hands were so warm; I couldn’t stop thinking about how they held mine.
“Flowers?” I asked. Flowers were by far my favorite things on the fantasy shows. Useless, yes—they couldn’t feed or clothe a person—but beautiful nonetheless.
Jayden nodded, a swift, sharp motion. “Yes, flowers. I’ll show you. But, Kate, it’s only a matter of time before the Administrators find out I’m gone. They’ll be looking for me. We need to go, now.”
Jayden’s eyes pleaded with me as we stood there, a vague chill creeping into the room through the still-open courtyard door. It was time to decide. He was going no matter what, and he didn’t have much time. Should I stay or go? Should I trust Jayden or write him off as insane? Should I let my fears control me, or should I put my destiny into the hands of someone who defied everything that made sense? Everything was ending, my world was ending, and nothing existed now but this choice and Jayden’s hands and his breathing so close to me and the sound of my heart in my ears and the occasional Rule from the wallscreen.
Speaking of which: “Rule Twenty: for the safety and well-being of all citizens, no citizen shall be permitted to leave his or her Apartment unless expressly allowed by a Senior Administrator.”
Jayden’s grip tightened for an instant. “I’m afraid I don’t go by your Rules,” he said to the dark-suited man, though he had to know the Reader could not hear him. That’s when I saw something fiercer in him. He wasn’t the Jayden I knew. Or maybe he was, and I hadn’t really known him in the first place.
Still, he was Jayden, and he was still my friend. I had just one more question. “Why me?”
This thing is killing me because there really aren’t any good cutoff points in this story. Since I had to pack everything together so tightly, one paragraph flows into the next and you can’t get the full effect when it’s broken into parts. Still, I really wanted to do it this way because having an almost three-thousand-word story in one post would have gotten real boring real fast. I thank you for bearing with me, readers. Click here for Part 4!