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The Catalyst This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.

I wipe the sweat gathered on my upper lip, not caring about smearing dirt on my face. It's coated anyway. A Shugo jabs me with his gun and tells me to stop lagging. I dust off my hands on my dirty skirt.

Shugo means “guardian” or “keeper” in Japanese, one of the many dead languages, but Shugos are hardly that. They are the enforcers of the law, the jailers, the executioners.

I am told that Japanese, along with hundreds of other languages, died out as English spread throughout the world. All that is spoken now is English, with only the Shugos as proof that others ever existed.

I start to hum quietly. There isn't much music anymore, because music doesn't get you food and safety. But it feels nice, having something Central can't take from me. The tune is a simple one, known to most of the other workers, because I hum it often. A few weeks ago I added words, but I can only sing it when the Shugos aren't around; they would surely punish me.

Seeing that the coast is clear, I wet my parched lips and sing.

“God bless us everyone, we're a broken people living under loaded gun, and it can't be outfought, it can't be outdone, it can't be outmatched, it can't be outrun. No!”*

Some of the workers hum along, bless them, and others are staring at me, shocked. I ignore them and sing the verse again. This time some join in.

It's now quite the scene: workers lifting large stone blocks onto the wall, singing in unison with each other and our work. But that is the only verse, and it soon dies out – until one brave worker starts up another verse he must have come up with, since I certainly didn't.

“God save us everyone, will we burn inside the fires of a thousand suns? For the sins of our hand, the sins of our tongue, the sins of our father, the sins of our young? No!”

It catches on quickly, but just then I spot a Shugo hurrying over. I panic and try to shush the others, but my heart sinks as the Shugo shouts, “What is the meaning of this?” Everybody abruptly snaps their mouths shut.

“Who started this nonsense?” Nobody says a word. He marches up to a young worker, grabbing him by his shirt. “I said, who started this?”

To his credit, the boy says not a word, just glares back. The Shugo cuffs him over the head and moves on to another worker.

I lift my chin up and say clearly, “I started the singing. I'm sorry; does it bother you that we are using our voices in a way not approved by Central?”

He grabs my hair and yanks it.

“You are in no position to get smart with me, missy,” he snarls. “I'm tempted to kill you on the spot.”

“So, why don't you? Oh, yes, because you have to get permission from Central. You need to run to Daddy to make it all better.”

Though I am expecting his fist to connect with my face, it still hurts like hell. It was most certainly worth it, though. I've wanted to tell a Shugo off for a very long time. He punches me again, then knocks me to the ground and kicks me.

“Just remember, ‘Daddy' owns you. You are a piece of trash, easily thrown out. Once Central hears of your rebellious acts, even your meager life will be meaningless.”

After he leaves, strong hands help me up. These workers are the only family I now know. They help me home, a small room in large building for common people. I lie down on the thin mattress and close my eyes, close to tears. What have I done?

This close to Central, it is never truly quiet or dark. You can always hear sirens and gunshots, people shouting and crying. Their airships with their spotlights and tall buildings with blinking lights are a permanent fixture here. And it is to this symphony that I fall into a fitful sleep.


*
*
*

Pounding on my door wakes me from my shallow sleep. I don't even have time to stand before the Shugos burst in and grab me.

“What are you doing?” I croak.

“We have orders from Central to arrest you for disturbing the peace and rebellious acts.”

I know what is coming, and I know it can't get much worse, so I throw in another “rebellious act.”

“I would believe that, if there was any peace left to disturb.”

This Shugo doesn't lose his temper, and he doesn't punch me. Instead, he says calmly, “We have orders for your execution at sunset tomorrow.”


*
*
*

They instruct me to bring one thing with me to wear when they … at the execution. I grab the only other item of clothing I own. They don't put me in handcuffs or tie my hands. There is no point. They know what I know: If I try to run, I will be dead in less than a second.

We board the ship; the ride to Central is surprisingly short. There aren't any windows, so it is only when I step out that I take in the brightly lit Central. There are lanterns hung, and people mill about, exploring shops while their children dance through the crowds, laughing. Bright neon signs are everywhere, telling people what goods they have for sale. Street musicians play, and people crowd around, clapping and smiling.

What a joke. What a lie. These people don't know the horrors that go on in their dear Central.

I am taken to a tower near the center of Central and put in a small white room, completely void of furniture. And the long, torturous wait begins. Hours and hours of nothing but white. I know now why the room is this way; it can unsettle any mind, being incased in nothingness for so long. I cannot stand this for much longer. I need something beyond the white. I dig my fingernail under a scab on my arm and smear a little blood on the wall across from where I am curled up. Then I am fine.

I smile as I realize something. I can do whatever I please. They are going to kill me anyway. It is with that realization that I wait with a smile on my face until they come for me.

When they do come, they do not comment on the blood or my smile. I assume people go insane and do this kind of thing all the time. They lead me to yet another room where I change into my last outfit. When I come out, the Shugos are obviously shocked. My mother made this garment, and I remember her saying it was a style from a very long time ago.

It is a deep crimson dress with long flowing sleeves and a gold corset and hem, with knee-high, laced boots. I let my hair down, and it falls on my back and shoulders. I don't think they were expecting me to wear a style from over three hundred years ago.

They lead me out of the building. We are going to the very heart of Central. The crowd has gathered in the courtyard, and onlookers part to make way for us. And there, right in front of me, is the gallows.

Central has liked sick ways of killing people for a long time, so they keep the tradition of public hanging. Heck, they built a whole courtyard for just the purpose. It's almost like we step into a different world, if not for the cameras broadcasting this event all over Central.

I spot my family, the workers, in the crowd. All of them, every single one, came. One I have known for a long time is crying. When I see his tear-streaked face that I make my decision.

I will not cry. I will keep my chin up, shoulders high, and be proud that I have made it this far, and that I have someone who would cry for me. They arrested me for rebelling, so I will rebel. They arrested me for singing. So I will sing.

I start quietly at first, then I grow more confident and sing louder. I repeat the same six words, over and over, as loud as I can.

“Lift me up, let me go.”

The Shugos shift uncomfortably, ­unsure of what to do.

“Lift me up, let me go.”

And quietly, I hear it start in the crowd, by my family.

“Lift me up, let me go.”

We sing as one while a Shugo leads me onto the gallows. He ties my hands.

“Lift me up, let me go.”

As he fits the noose over my head, I hear something else starting. It's my song, and they are shouting it, screaming it, at the Shugos.

“God bless us every one, we're a broken people living under loaded gun. And it can't be outfought, it can't be outdone, it can't be outmatched, it can't be out run. No!”

The noose is around my neck now. And I know that I must do something. I must show them. I must rebel. So, one last time, I sing.

“God bless us everyone, we are broken people living under loaded gun, but it can be outfought, it can be outdone, it can be outmatched, it can be outrun!”

The crowd screams and cheers and picks up the verse. And then I watch as they turn on the Shugos and start to attack them.

Then the Shugo next to me pulls the lever. And there I hang, with a smile upon my face and a song upon my lips.


*
*
*

Epilogue:

The High Queen sat in her living quarters, sipping chai and reading the new edition of the history of the country, so she could either approve or disapprove it. She laughed, and a passing serving girl asked what was funny.

“Oh, it's nothing. They have spun some ridiculous story about who was the catalyst for the Downfall of Central.”

The girl look surprised. “You don't believe it? I assumed that was what had happened, since that's what is told.”

The queen shook her head. “It seems unlikely that one girl could trigger a major rebellion. It's probably a rumor that started a long ago and grew into lore.”

The girl just shrugged and left.

The queen smiled to herself and, drumming her fingers on the table, she started to hum.

* Lyrics from “The Catalyst” by Linkin Park

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.




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This article has 13 comments. Post your own now!

purplehonu This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Aug. 24, 2012 at 12:58 pm
Amazing work! Made me tear up. Keep it up, you're fantastic :)
 
Varlen-Byrd said...
Jul. 11, 2012 at 7:31 pm
I like what you said about not giving her a name because she is a symbol for everyone. that was deep. On another note, it did sort sound like The Hunger Games even through i havent read the book yet, from what i hear it is kind of similar. still i like the overall message of your story. Keep it up!
 
SeizeTheDayThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Jul. 11, 2012 at 6:30 pm
As other readers have said, this is very Hunger Games-esque - in a good way! I love how a song brought on this onset of words. This is one of the best pieces I have read in a while. Keep up the awesome work! :)
 
A.C.Worsham said...
Dec. 4, 2011 at 6:52 pm
Your a fan of Hunger Games arent you? Very good story. I loved it. I couldnt stop reading.
 
ShadoWhisper This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Dec. 5, 2011 at 7:22 am
Haha, yeah, looking back at this, it's pretty obvious, isn't it? And thank you!
 
Steph0804 said...
Aug. 5, 2011 at 11:05 am

Wow... beautiful...

I have a question: was the High Queen a witness of the hanging, or the girl herself?

... but if the hanging succeeded, she can't be the girl...

 
ShadoWhisper This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Aug. 16, 2011 at 11:06 am
Ah, well see, that's really up to you to decide....
 
IamtheshyStargirl said...
Jun. 9, 2011 at 2:00 pm

This is awesome! I actually rather love the world you've created, dark as it may be. It is still beautiful, maybe it's because you make the poeple so beautiful, the main character so beautiful.

This story well deserves it's publishing in the magazine.

 
leafy said...
Jun. 7, 2011 at 12:15 pm
wow i loved this! i just read it from the magazine and i just had to comment on it. keep up the good work!
 
ShadoWhisper This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jun. 8, 2011 at 1:10 pm
^^ Thank you very much! I'm glad that you enjoyed it.
 
ViralGirl said...
Jan. 10, 2011 at 9:02 pm

GAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   Yay yay yay yay for Mikaykay!!!!!!!!!!! It's on here! That gives me a HAPPY!!!!!!!!!!!! :)))

I luvs you.

 
ShadoWhisper This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Jan. 10, 2011 at 9:45 pm
...Don't...call me that. But I'm glad you're so excited about it...
 
ViralGirl replied...
Jan. 11, 2011 at 5:51 pm
I'll call you whatever I darn well please.  So there.
 
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