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


   We are called The Pariah. There was a time when I was a person, a Citizen, Rana de la Fortuna. Now I am Pariah #64-18560, known by the name of Froggy. Four years ago I was dehumanized, my number tattooed across my back in two-inch tall black letters. I became the 18,560th criminal to enter the Island in '64. The year 2064, that is. They say the sixties of a hundred years ago were the birth of the drug culture. If only they could see The Pariah.

Forty-five years ago, The Channel was dug around New York. It cuts us off from The Citizens. Forty-five years ago the first jailful of convicts was shipped across The Channel to become the first Pariah. The President of the United States felt it was not worth his while to keep up jails for convicts. His "New Plan" was to isolate them and leave them to their own devices.

It is my twentieth birthday today. India stopped by. She had a late night, but she tries to be a semblance of a friend. She offered me a hit, but I put it behind the twisted metal that used to be a radiator. India is a year older, but has been here since she was 13. Shoplifting, drug possession and prostitution.

Convicts from all around the country are shipped here. The minute they step off the ferry, they are Pariah. Despite the vast numbers of criminals who arrive, New York never fills up. The death rate is as high as we are. Two years ago, the serial killer Jack Gammel became a Pariah. He killed 52 other Pariah before Thaddeus Coleman killed him. Tad says it was just a street fight, but sometimes I think he did it to protect us. In some sad way, he wants to keep us safe. And so it is with the Pariah. The killers whack us every night, the drugs make us overdose, and tall buildings call out to people like me.

I've lived in 20 different rooms since coming here. I was 16 years old, and my boyfriend was a rich kid who liked to push me around. When I got out of the hospital the last time, I saw him standing at his window. I used a lighter he had given me to torch the house, the garage, the Mercedes-Benz in the driveway. I was convicted of arson and attempted murder within two weeks. Soon after, I found myself here.

Almost simultaneously with the digging of The Channel, scientists in D.C. discovered a contraceptive that was smoked instead of ingested. Tec is highly addictive and relatively easy to make. Half of New York is drug fields, and half of those are devoted to making Tec. There haven't been children in New York in 45 years. It is better that way.

I move a lot. I don't want people to keep track of me. Tad is the only one. He's older, with silver streaks in his long black hair. Ever since I was dehumanized, Tad has watched out for me. I would have died a long time ago if he had not protected me.

No Pariah has ever escaped from New York. Not many want to. Here they can kill, rape, steal and do drugs, all the things they were condemned for. No one could escape if they wanted to. Boats are placed every 50 yards around the island. Aboard each are two men armed to the teeth. When their shift ends, the relief comes in a new boat. While still on the boat on the opposite shore, the guards are strip-searched for drugs and illegal weapons. Nothing gets off the island. All that comes in are more Pariahs.

India is back. Over this year she has become a paranoid junkie. She's crashing on my bed, sleeping off the low. She's scared of Hez coming to kill her, but I think he's harmless. I'm sitting on my balcony, trying to think things through. Everything will change tonight.

I haven't done drugs for a year - exactly a year today - with the exception of Tec once a week, and that is just a precaution. I haven't drunk a drop of the sour wine or beer the Pariah make. For a year, I've avoided all the things that will destroy my chances.

The only time I leave my room is to run to build up my strength and endurance. A weak Pariah has no chance. I run along The Channel just after noon every day. None of the Pariah shake off their drunken stupors or stoned comas until late afternoon. I often look over the half-mile of water that separates me from The Citizens. It's been a long time since I have been swimming.

India has just woken up. Her fingers are shaking as she reaches behind the radiator and lights the joint she gave me. She smokes it in a corner, looking around nervously. I can see her sweating. She won't last long, but I'm getting out.

A year ago today I saw myself in the mirror. I saw my eyes ringed with black, cocaine streaming from my nose. I saw myself dead on the floor, thrown into the ocean without seeing the sun again. That is when I knew I couldn't stay. The high wasn't worth dying for.

Nobody knows my plan, not even poor India. A year ago today, I swore I would leave. The world is big. Even a Pariah can hide. I will be that Pariah. I don't want to be a Citizen, but I do want to look at the sky and see the sun without a haze of smoke clouding it.

India has fallen asleep again. I get up and cover her with my tattered blanket, kissing her feverish forehead. She has been my friend for the past four years, and it hurts me that I must leave her behind. Her glazed eyes flicker open for a moment, only to stare right past me before closing again. I turn away before I cry, and begin to pull up the floorboard under the window. I take out the pistol wrapped in a bit of green cloth. I try not to shudder. I hope, I pray, that my freedom will not be bought at the price of another person's blood. No Pariah is without a gun, though. I hate the feel of the cold metal against my skin as I tuck it in my waistband.

Tad is alone in his palace, the warehouse a mile away. He looks up from his cigarette smoke and game of cards as I walk in.

"I'm leaving," I say, standing in the doorway. "I'm leaving for good."

Tad pushes back his folding chair and stands. He throws his stub on the floor, grinding it beneath his heel.

"I've expected as much. You realize you might fail."

"I will not fail, Tad."

"No Pariah has ever succeeded."

"Then I will be the first." The dim light makes my eyes strain, but I look straight into his eyes. Tad sighs.

"I assume you have a plan. Where will you go, Froggy?"

"As far away as I can." Impulsively, I rush forward and hug him hard. Other than India, he is the only person I will miss. I can feel him rub my head with nicotine-stained fingers.

"Then don't ever come back," he whispers.

* * *

The water embraces me in its cold grasp. I embrace it back, and dive deep. The Sentinel's boats are only in the channel, and I am swimming south, in the ocean. My lungs are already burning, and the coast has come no closer. I push a 10-gallon plastic drum ahead of me, and hope it will be enough to keep me afloat when I am too exhausted to swim.

An engine is starting. One of the Sentinels has spotted me bobbing in the waves. I kick harder and try to focus on the shore, but the buzzing of the engine is nearing. I don't want to die. I can't go back, no, I can't return. I am ready to die now if I have to. Maybe 64-18560 is still there on my back, but I look up and see the sun. I am no longer a Pariah.




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 3 comments. Post your own now!

ClarinetPower said...
Jul. 9, 2012 at 6:37 pm
I love this! It reminds me kind of the Holocaust because of the prison-like feel and the tattooed numbers mixed with sci-fi. 
 
Imaginedangerous This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
Nov. 11, 2011 at 8:56 pm
This was a terrific idea. Great work!
 
TashawnMC said...
Sept. 7, 2010 at 3:53 pm
:D Verryyy Nicw
 
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