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Ne Plus Ultra, Chapter One: Sleeping Visions
It had been the fourth day that Ezra was unable to sleep with peaceful dreams. No matter how many different ways his body twisted, he still found himself uncomfortable in his bed, and no matter how many times he tried to trick himself into having dreamless sleep, those strange, foreboding scenes still came to mind. It wasn’t the fact that his bed was hard or unbearable, he realized, but that there was an undeniable disquiet within his body, a rush of too many thoughts running through his mind, disabling him from reaching any sort of rest; adrenaline kept him vigilant.
So instead, Ezra decided to keep himself busy with reading on the computer that was placed into the corner of his room. Even then, he could feel his eyes become dry and weary at the black pages and bright lights from the screen. There was not antidote for his issues, and he refused to consult his parents of them. He knew that if he spoke of his sleeping habits—or worse, his Dreams—they would call up the Hospital and plan an appointment to go see the Doctor.
And then who knows what would happen to him.
In Ezra’s Community, Sleeping Visions told the stories of fate. They believed that there were signs in every detail, there was an explanation to every Dream, and there was a foreshadowing event to every story. His family, during breakfast, would speak of their night pleasantly; his mother of gentle waves splashing against the rock as she wriggled her feet in the sand, his father of a journey into space (“I even discovered a new nebula,” he chuckled.), and Ezra… he simply made up stories, attempting to keep his terrors a secret. Instead, he would mould the terrible Dreams he had and form them into logical streams of becoming tales.
“Last night,” he started. “My Sleeping Visions took me to an opening within a thick wood. There were lights shining barely through the branches as I walked through this winding path until I reached a bright meadow filled with flowers in bloom. It was rather beautiful, I think. I took rest there, allowing myself to stare at the puffs of clouds in the sky…”
Ezra wanted to gag at his own words. Obviously, they were not true, and it was a wonder how easily his folks could fall for such horrible lies.
“Oh, how wonderful!” his Mother said. “Perhaps this is a very sign that you will be gaining a vast amount of knowledge at the Institute today!“
Institutes were where the Youth were sent to learn and gain skills, and depending upon the skills they pick up best, they branch out into different categories that determine what their Career choices will be in the future ahead. Usually, Fifth and Seventh years in the Institute took the P.O.I.N.T.S. (Primary Observation of Intelligence, Nonesuch and Tactical Skills) and S.C.O.R.E. (Secondary Core Observation of Required Endowment) exams that followed the end of the term, which went over what students had learned the entire term and assessed their capabilities as to what they would do well in job-wise. Ezra was a Fifth year, and the P.O.I.N.T.S. was soon approaching.
“Yeah,” he mumbled, leaning down to take a nip at his toast. “Maybe I’ll learn something today.”
And they continued along during breakfast, trying to predict what would happen later on today. After finishing his breakfast, Ezra gathered his messenger bag, his jacket, and a book (The Book of Truths, it read in bold, gold print on a plain blue hardback cover) off the counter and headed out the door. He traipsed at a rather leisurely pace to his bike that was tucked safely away in the garage. He wasn’t ready to head off to the Institution, so he decided to take his time. Classes didn’t start until eight o’ clock, and he had a good thirty minutes before he had to be there on time. Pulling a keychain from out of his pocket, he flipped through a handful of cards and walked up to the garage. Taking the card, he pressed its barcode against a laser that flickered lightly on the garage door and, with a click, the door rose and revealed the contents of the garage.
Soon, he was on his way and pushing the horrors in the back of his mind far, far behind him.
The city of Picoult was placed in the centre of the nation. Surrounded completely by wooded area, the only safe way to enter the capitol of the country, Amer, would be to use an aircraft (which only the government owned) or risk the dangers lurking within the forest. Picoult was the model city of every Community within the commonwealth in appearance as well as law.
Ezra had lived in Picoult all his life, never once leaving the city—not because he did not want to, but because he was not allowed or able to. Not only were there the possible peril that dwelled within the wood that delimited the grand metropolis, but there was also a large gate that nearly brushed against the heavens. The fables that told of people who attempted to run out into the wood (“They had gone absolutely Mad!” squeaked Ezra’s mother) never made it out with their lives intact. It was said that Authority Officials are sometimes sent to find the lifeless bodies of the coppice. These stories, whether true or otherwise, kept the citizens of Picoult from ever getting the idea to attempt to stray from the safety of the conurbation.
Beside the looming horrors that lived within the brush, there were also those that were at school. In all honesty, Ezra did not enjoy his time at the Institute, despite his reassurance to his parents that he had good days and learned many things. The reality of this, however, was not so much true. He was very detached to the lessons he was being taught, as it seemed that he had no true interest in any of them. Who cared about the politics of today when the lessons were merely teaching him that it was important to leave the work to the Clergy? Who cared about what they were doing for the people when the people honestly did not know for themselves, save for the laws that they had made to keep them safe? Who cared about the long equations of Mathematics or the many rules that came along with it? There was no interest in any of these things whatsoever, and the only intrigue he found himself in was his writings that he managed to submerge himself in during the long droning of the Professors.
Ezra didn’t have many friends as everyone else at school. He was not popular and did not enjoy the ever gossiping groups that formed during classes and passing periods and lunch tables. He only had two friends, Aloysius and Lumos, and both were in the same condition as he was. His friends, beside his writings and occasional writings, were the only people he could confide in about anything he truly thought. It was as though that they were the only people who had opened their mind to his rather mad ideas—and in all honesty, it seemed that they were.
Ezra even recalled a time when he had gained the courage to speak in front of the whole classroom one of his papers, when he poured his heart out onto the pieces of paper he gained enough courage to type, when he discharged all of his soul out to the class his most inner thoughts--a Sleeping Vision that he found so beautiful (and perhaps a little Dark), so fetching in imagery that he could not keep it to himself. After letting each word spill from his lips, he looked up to blank faces, to crude sneers, and a concerned teacher who wondered whether everything was okay at home, whether he was ill that afternoon.
He did not understand.
Shaking his head, he allowed the memory to fade as he looked down at his piece of parchment, brown with a little bit of age. His eyes scanned over the small, half-cursive writing of his own, checking to see if everything he had wrote was correct to his recollection. This time, he made sure that he would not raise his hand to speak before the class.
The bell had rung for the classes to begin and Ezra had already been prepared within the classroom. He usually made it to the school before any of his friends did, and since they had their first period together, he simply waited in the room for both of his mates and wrote about his thoughts, anticipating their demands of him exposing his inner thoughts to him (in which he happily obliged).
The class filed into the room from the corridors that contained their lockers, two being his best companions. Aloysius, with shaggy, ginger hair and a streak of blond within his bangs, bright, crystal blue eyes, and a charming (but clearly arrogant) smile came to sit to the right of the boy, resting his chin within his palm. He gave a look of sheer expectation, not needing to express his demands as Ezra already knew what he was asking for. And then there was Lumos, a very skinny, very lanky boy with deep onyx locks as thin as candy floss and eyes the colour of fresh, wet concrete. He sat to the left of him, leaning over in the slightest with a tiny, mousy-looking smile. He, too, was wearing an expression of expectance to Ezra.
Ezra merely smiled at the two, his fingers lightly tapping upon his desk as he began to lean backward, his head tilting back a little bit.
“I’ve been keeping a secret from you guys for a while, and I apologize ahead of time. I don’t mean to hold back or anything, it just felt like I had to keep things to myself for a while, because I didn’t know how to explain myself. I haven’t even told my own parents about this, if it makes you feel any better—“
“You don’t tell them anything in the first place, mate,” said Aloysius in a matter-of-factly sort of way.
“—that’s not the point. The point is that I apologize for my delay of news. Things just don’t seem to be all right in my head right now.”
“Nothing’s ever right in your head, Ezra,” Lumos snickered, resting the side of his head upon the desk, his lips pulled into an almost all-too-innocent simper.
Sighing, Ezra placed the parchment of writing on Aloysius’ desk, his hands soon after reaching for his rucksack to pull out more supplies for what he was about to tell them. Lumos sat patiently, watching curiously at Aloysius’ expression, wondering greatly as to what the boy had written.
Aloysius ran his thumb against the parchment placed in front of him, his green eyes scanning over the slightly smudged ink that was sprawled across it, A thin handwriting, he noticed, carefully—but hastily—written with a quill. He began to read breathily, only audible to himself.
My feet were bare upon the stark white snow. They had become pink from the frigid temperature, and I could only shudder to relieve my body of the evident freeze that had overcome it.
My body was nearly bare; I had refused the garments society had chosen for me, I had refused to be numbered, to be labeled, to be the name that the City had chosen for me. And upon that refusal came the duration of endless run I was about to endure.
They were after me. The soles of my feet had become tough; I could quickly move over rocks and rigid surfaces without cringing in discomfort and I could step on twigs, I had become strong—wild. I could absorb the sting of slashes that cut superficially across my flesh. I could move. I felt like an animal.
I was being hunted.
Each night, I’d have this dream, and all of the endings were the same. I’d reach the end of the forest—further than any man had dared to tread—and ultimately came to a large gate. It must have been at least ten meters high. As though scratched in by an animal upon this steel wall, a single sentence was prominent to me in each dream:
Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d.
“Thrice the brinded cat hath mew’d?” He looked up to Ezra, his brows arching at such a ridiculous sentence. “What does that even mean?”
“Like I know?”
“Mr. Harper, Mr. Almquist, Mr. Elstrom, what are you three up to?”
The teacher, Ms. Arland had approached their desks, her lips a single line of quiet rage, hand reaching for the paper they all huddled around with interest. Her brows were arched at the single object that obstructed her pupils from learning.
Ezra quickly snatched the piece of parchment from the desk as Ms. Arland had reached for it, his hand turning into a fist, crumpling the sacred note that held his most secret dreams. The woman’s eyes had narrowed and she soon pulled off a smile. Her wryness could not be mistaken from the simper.
“Mr. Harper, please hand me your little note. You will be able to get it back after class—unless you would like to share it with the entire class?”
Ezra’s anxiety flared.
“Now, Ms. Arland,” started Aloysius, his voice was soft, smooth. His smile was particularly sweet. He was a good Pretender. “Must we go to such extremes? Ezra was just sharing a little bit of his writing. Isn’t this Language class?”
“Mr. Elstrom, I do not allow note-passing in class.”
“—but, Ms. Arland…” joined Lumos, his lips forming a small frown.
“Mr. Almquist, please hush.”
“Mr. Harper, give me your note.”
“But—“ they all said at once. She was already reaching for it, her fingers just nearly brushing against the fine piece of parchment.
Ezra quickly crumpled it and placed it within his mouth.
Perhaps this was the first sign of my madness. My disobedience was something that had not been present before. I had not been threatened with such a risk as giving up my Dreams to a teacher, and perhaps I had panicked so much that I went to the extreme of consuming the paper—placing it within my mouth just so that I did not have to have her see what I had wrote. I knew for certain that she would call my Parents and that would be a catalyst to send me to the Doctor.
I now realize that my behaviour would also lead to this point.
“What do you have to say for yourself, Mr. Harper?”
The Counsellor, as he was strictly called by all personnel, students, and parents within the Institute, was a man wise with age, but looked nothing older than his mid-thirties. He was very slender, his body lanky and nearly frail, as though you could take a limb and simply break it if holding it incorrectly. His voice was nothing near loud; no child has heard hi yell—of course, he believed that no child would listen at an adult screaming, and thus his voice was barely above a whisper. His lips was always in a serene smile, it seemed. Even if he was upset. Even if he was irate.
Ezra frowned a little, staring at the fingers laced in his lap.
“I don’t know. I guess I don’t, sir.”
“Now, now. I suppose every child has his or her time of rebellion, don’t they?”
“I suppose so, Mr. Counsellor.”
“Are you ever actually sure of anything you do, Mr. Harper?”
Every time the older man would speak his name with such emphasis, it made Ezra cringe, caused shivers run up and down his spine. It felt like poison pulsing through the veins, pumping into the heart, throbbing throughout the entire body; yet another reason why every child attempted to avoid coming to the Counsellor’s office.
“Good.” He smiled and then turned around to look at his computer screen. With a small shifting glance, Ezra was able to see a long list of some sort--perhaps his records. “You seem to have a spotless record and marvellous grades, Mr. Harper. It must be very disappointing to know that your spotless record is ruined due to a careless act of--”
He looked down at a large, pink sheet of paper.
“…’eating a piece of parchment in order to commit insubordination in class’.”
The man sighed and leaned back in his chair, his fingers lacing atop the large desk. He frowned, grimly.
“Unfortunately, I will have to give you punishment. A week’s Detention will do you some good, don’t you think?”
“Good, I’m glad you agree, Mr. Harper.”
I realized that my behaviour just sent me to Hell.