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The Griffin (Abridged)
"All right class, I'm giving you a project to do over the break." Groans filled the room. "Oh come on guys it's not all that bad." Mrs. Giles was a truly awesome history teacher. She never assigned too much work and really understood her students. Or at least that's what everyone thought until now. "Really guys, it's not that hard." She pleaded trying to quiet the whining. "Shush! Shush! Listen up. It's a project over Griffen Our Savior." Everyone perked up at that. "It won’t be much work, just a poster. And even though I know you've heard the story thousands of times, we'll go over it again in the next few minutes. Now what do you know?" A few hands shot up around the room. Mrs. G called on Cecelia and a memorized torrent of words poured from Cecelia's mouth.
"Theories about global warming popped up in the 1800s. Later, scientists discovered a hole in the ozone that was letting in too much of the sun's rays, causing the polar ice caps to melt. They realized that this was a result of pollution and they predicted that if the pollution didn't stop, the caps would melt completely causing the oceans to rise and wholly cover the continents. So they tried to start the "Go Green" revolution, but there were too many skeptics and it didn’t catch on until years later when the planet was trashed and the oceans had already begun to cover the continents. The people tried to fix the mess they'd made but it was too late. The Hole grew bigger and bigger causing the caps to melt even more rapidly. More and more water covered the land at faster rates every day. Millions died because of violence, lack of supplies and living space, more widespread diseases, and increasingly terrible natural disasters caused by the Hole. The American government was trying to find a solution when Griffen, the son of a government official, asked his dad why they didn’t just make floating cities. His dad actually saw this as a great idea and took it to the government who immediately started building and testing facilities. Griffen kept adding his input and when they declared "Project Atlantis" successful, they released it to the public and started moving us here. Then a group of savages attacked the cities. Griffen died protecting us. We are the last city left."
"Thank you Miss Cecelia. Now, your assignment is to search for a little known fact about Griffen and make a poster about it. I want you to-" The bell rang cutting her off and ending the school day. The students scurried out of the classroom and flooded out the double doors of the school.
"Well I think Mrs. G's Griffen project is brilliant! With all of the boundaries that we're confined by, all of the 'imagination is evil!' propaganda, and just all of the crap we've had to put up with, she's giving us a way to slip in right underneath the government's nose and be inventive and creative for once! It's what we're all about!" Dyllan, a well spoken girl of sixteen, had a point there but Byron, who was busy slouching on my sofa, glued to the television didn't care. "Whatever. Would you just shut up already? I'm watchin' something here!" Dyllan glared his way and continued her conversation with Austin about what she planned to do for her project. I sighed and turned to Gunvor, my partner in crime. We led a group of rebels, called ourselves The Craze. If you could even call a bunch of teenagers sitting around in my den just chilling “rebels.” There's not much you can do to rebel in an almost perfectly controlled society. No, in this cruel reality, rebellion is doing what a human should be doing anyway by their natural rights. In a world where everything about you is calculated to result in a so called "greater outcome to benefit the city," the only rebellion is creativity. Our jobs are chosen for us based off of the skills we showed throughout our schooling years. Our meals are delivered three times a day, specified and provided to each person according to their dietary systems and vital needs. Everything is set out for us and we are expected to just follow along blindly. It's just wrong. But between the ten of us, we are the bright lights in the darkness, the flames of life. We are here to-
My thoughts were interrupted by the foreign feeling of a tremor beneath my feet. "What the-" Another tremor shook the room, even stronger this time. The sound of a far off explosion came next. "What the heck?"
"Shush everyone!" Byron said, turning up the television. A reporter stood in front of the smoking shell of a building that was missing a chunk of its roof. People were being herded together by police officers and a few small fires had sprung up. Dust and smoke filled the air. It was pandemonium. The reporter was just beginning when the footage was replaced by the sigil of our government and then a sharp looking man in a business suit. He cleared his throat and began to speak.
"This is the emergency response station. I am sorry for interrupting your program but I must inform you that a hot water tank has blown in an empty building in the fishing district. Do not be alarmed, the situation is under control. If your assigned daily schedule requires you to report to the fishing district today, please report to the Pandora Coliseum instead. Otherwise, please continue with your normal daily schedules. Thank you."
The television screen flickered and the footage of the building was back. The reporter was now signing off. The reporter suddenly looked up with a confused and, oddly, awestruck expression on her face. Then little white specks were trickling down from the sky all around her, fluttering. They looked like snowflakes but that wasn't possible in eighty degree weather. "What is that?" Austin asked. Byron stood and headed towards the door. "I don't know," he said, "but I'm gonna find out." He went outside. The reporter reached out and caught one of the specks. Byron burst back into the room gripping a little white piece of paper. "You guys gotta see this!" He breathed, holding the paper out for all to see. The reporter held up a small piece of paper. The camera zoomed in. On both papers was a picture of a griffin.
"I just know it means something Gunvor. Something important and I need to figure it out! It obviously has something to do with Griffen Our Savior." As soon as I had seen the griffin, I called my troops to go out and grab as many of the paper slips as possible. Good thing too, because, soon enough, the government had sent men in white uniforms through the streets to collect all of the papers. I knew it was a message in secret code that I just had to crack. I had tried all sorts of things; connecting dots and lines, searching for hidden words, reinterpreting shapes, layering the images different ways, holding slips up to the light, and nothing. I had been at it for hours. Gunvor didn’t think it was worth obsessing over so. “Well, I just don’t want you to get hurt, or to make something huge out of absolutely nothing. You worry me when you get like this.”
“I understand your concern and it’s sweet that you’re so worried, but I just have that gut feeling you know? I just know this is important. And besides, making something huge out of absolutely nothing? Isn’t that what The Craze is all about? Creating glorious things when we have nothing? I have to figure this out.” Gunvor sighed. “Well, if that’s how you’re going to be, I might as well help you. The sooner this is over with the better.” I wrapped my arms around him in a big bear hug. “Thank you.” I murmured against his shoulder. He extracted himself from my embrace and dug through a drawer for something. He pulled out a map of the city. “I do have a few ideas.” He said, grinning. He laid the map flat on the desk and started lining griffins up on top of it. He placed them in a sort of grid, covering the whole map. “Here is where the explosion happened.” He said, circling the griffin on top of the fishing district. “Now what else do you see?” He turned to look at me. I scanned the griffin-covered map, looking for connections. “There’s only one other district with a griffin directly on top of it!” I declared, triumphant. “The metal district. You’re a genius! I love you so much!” I hugged him again and grabbed my bag. “Wait, where are you going?” he asked. “The metal district of course! Where else did you think I’d be going?” His face creased with worry. “But you don’t even know what you’re looking for! The metal district is huge and if you get caught going where you’re not supposed to be according to your schedule…” I placed my hand on his cheek. “I’ll be careful, I promise. I can take care of myself, you know that. And I do know what I’m looking for. I’m searching for an empty building with something significant about it.” I patted his cheek and left.
Big, hulking buildings surrounded me. I had to be careful to look normal, as if I belonged in this part of the city. I had only been to the metal district once before, when I was on a field trip in the sixth grade. It was amazing, back then, with all of the huge buildings and complex machinery. Now all I saw was ugly buildings made of gray cement and broken people worked to the bones, all of their sparks smothered. It was depressing in the extreme. I observed the buildings, searching for one displaying no signs of life. I had been walking for what seemed like forever and had spotted a few deserted buildings, but nothing about them stood out. Nothing screamed “THIS IS IT!” A few people eyed me warily, expecting trouble. I just smiled and kept on walking. Finally, I noticed a multi-level warehouse with the windows and doors boarded up. There was a rusty chain link fence surrounding it. I stopped for a moment, looking for some significance, and was about to move on when something caught my eye. A puff of steam had just come from one of the chimneys hadn’t it? I watched for a second longer. There! There it was again! Barely visible, another puff of steam had erupted from the roof. Then, I could have sworn there was a flicker of movement behind one of the upper level windows. I started towards the building, looking for a place to get past the fence. There. I slipped through a hole in the fence and crept up to the building. I saw a window that was open. It looked like there were once boards over it that had been recently removed. I climbed in through the window, retrieving a flashlight from my bag and turning it on. Suddenly there was a hand around my waist and another over my mouth before I even had time to scream. Something cold and sharp was pressed into my back. “Now I’m going to remove my hand from your mouth and you will not scream. Instead you will tell me who you are and how you found me. If you resist, this here knife goes straight through your ribs. Got it?” came the guttural whisper in my ear. I nodded. The hand slipped away. “My name is Audrey. I’m just a kid who laid a bunch of griffins on a map and came to where they led.” I whimpered. The hands pulled away and lights flared on around me. A gruff but young looking man stood grinning down at me. “How old are you?” he asked. “Seventeen sir.” He laughed. “Well I guess there is hope for the world then! And don’t call me sir, I’m only twenty-one. The name’s Griffen.” He offered his hand. “G-g-griffen as in the Griffen?” I stuttered. He frowned. “Well if you mean Griffen who thought of floating cities as an eleven-year-old boy? Yes. The Griffen you’ve heard of? Absolutely not.” That made no sense but I wasn’t about to argue with this man. But I did have one question: “How do I know you’re telling the truth?” His frown deepened. “I was afraid you’d ask that. Well all I can tell you is that I hope you trust me.” He seemed so sad, so worn and weary like only one who has endured great sorrow and born immense burdens could. It was almost heartbreaking. “I do.”
I immediately ordered an emergency Craze meeting. The ten of us sat together in my little den, just like we had when this all started. I explained what Gunvor and I had found, what happened in the abandoned warehouse, and the conversation Griffen and I had. “He said that if we want to know the truth, if we want to escape the clutches of our oppressors, all we had to do was follow him. He has a boat hidden near the city. If we’re in, we’re supposed to meet him at the water rec center tomorrow.” Gunvor glared at me with a told you so kind of expression. “Audrey, you know I respect your opinion and all but I just don’t trust this.” Dyllan spoke up indignantly. “Well I’m in. This sounds like an opportunity that will never come again. If Audrey trusts him, I trust him. Seriously guys, we don’t have much to lose and isn’t this what The Craze is all about anyway?” She walked over to stand by me. “Exactly my point!” I exclaimed. There was a chorus of “I’m ins” from Austin, Byron, Ember, Stella, and Danny. Gunvor, however, stood firm. “It’s too dangerous! You guys don’t know this man! You don’t know who he is, or where he came from, or what he plans to do! Who knows, this may even be a test set up by the government to assess our loyalty! You guys shouldn’t do this!” I stormed my way across the room so that I stood inches away from him. “I am my own person. You don’t own or control me. You have no right to tell me what to do. We govern this group with equal power. I love you so much and I don’t want to hurt you. We’ve grown up together. You might as well be my own blood we’re so close. But this isn’t your decision to make.” His face twisted in anguish. “But-but I love you.” He mumbled. “I love you too and I know this hurts but-” “No.” he said, cutting me off. He was looking straight into my eyes now. “No, I love you. I always have. I’ve just been too afraid to tell you.” I was dumbstruck. This certainly was not what I expected. “I…” I began but then he cupped the back of my head in his hand and pressed his lips to mine. He slipped his other hand around my waist and pulled me closer. In that moment, my eyes were closed, the world was slipping away. There was nothing else but the sweet, gentle pressure of his hands, his lips. Then reality crashed down around me, a freezing wave dragging me back into the real world with its forceful tide. I pressed against his chest, gently pushing him away. He looked into my eyes with those big irises of his, so full of inexpressible emotion. “Come with me.” I whispered. “Come and start a new life.” He shook his head. His eyes welled with tears. “I can’t.” My heart shattered into a billion irreparable pieces. I pushed past him to the two who hadn’t moved. “Are you coming?” I asked. All I received in reply was blank stares. I turned and stalked back to the group of my supporters, tall, mighty, confident, unstoppable. “You have ‘til tomorrow. Five pm. Make your decisions carefully.”
I sat on the dock, wearing shorts and a tank top, a backpack full of the things I might need on my back, flip flops at my side. Austin, Dyllan, and Byron, similarly dressed, sat next to me. Four thirty-seven. “Here comes Stella and Ember.” Dyllan notified me. “Hi guys.” said Ember as she walked up. We looked like a perfectly normal group of teens hanging out at the rec center on a hot day. It was perfect. Four forty-five. “There’s Danny and… Hey look it’s Devlin and Connor!” I twisted around to see the two undecideds chatting with Devlin as they headed towards us. Four fifty-six. I scanned the crowd searching for Griffen or Gunvor. Neither was to be found. Four fifty-eight. I turned back to the water lapping at my feet. “Hey Miss Audrey.” said a familiar voice behind me. Stella leaned over and whispered in my ear, “Is that him? ‘Cause he’s cute!” I whirled around to see Griffen standing there with his goofy grin plastered across his face. “I think you’re missing something.” He said, stepping aside. Standing there behind him was a meek looking Gunvor. I stood up and ran to hug him. “We caught up with each other as we were coming over here. You guys ready?” Griffen asked. We all nodded and Griffen pulled out a key ring. He pushed a button. Out of nowhere, a large black boat sped up to the dock, soaking us all. “Go!” shouted Griffen and we all scurried to get on board just as a siren began to sound. “Where the heck did you get this!” hollered an ecstatic Devlin. “I thought all boats were banned from the public!” Griffen looked up at Devlin after giving some hurried orders to the boat’s driver. “They are. Now hang on!” We all found seats and grabbed onto something right as the boat began to move. We began to build speed until we were hurtling across the water at an unbelievable speed. Griffen looked back with practiced ease and cursed. I struggled to twist my body around, trying to turn in the powerful wind, and saw three sleek, black speedboats following us. “Get down!” Griffen roared, hefting up a huge gun. He fired a quick burst of bullets and cursed again. “Kids, I need you to go below deck!” He gestured towards a hatch door behind the benches we were seated on. Gunvor made the first move, crawling towards the hatch. We stayed on our hands and knees to keep our balance as we bounced along across the waves. Gunvor and Connor worked together to wrench the door open and we all crawled down to what lay below.
We climbed down a ladder and were all stopped in our tracks by what surrounded us. Banks of monitors lined the edge of the large room, most monitored by a different person. We heard some more gunshots fired above and the footfalls and shouts of the crewmembers defending the boat. Somebody from across the room said to us “You might want to grab on to something.” We all gripped onto what we could. A minute later, the boat banked such a sharp turn that it practically flipped on its side. Then it leveled. The boat turned again. We felt the humming vibrations of the ship lessen and the world became still and quiet. The hatch flew open. Thankfully it was Griffen who climbed down the ladder. “Welcome!” he bellowed. “We’re safe now. The city’s Special Forces teams only have authorization to go so far. Follow me.” He grinned at us and headed towards a door at the back of the room. He opened it and ushered us all into an elaborately furnished conference room. “This ship is so huge.” Conner breathed. We were all filled with utter awe. There was no doubt in our minds now that this was the Griffen the Great. “Please have a seat.” He pulled out a chair. “Miss Audrey.” He winked at me and sat down at the head of the table. “Now I know you’re probably all bursting with questions, wondering what the heck is going on but first, let me introduce myself. My name is Griffen Strew. I live to liberate the people I have already tried to save. I’m sure you know how corrupt the government is already. That’s why The Craze, as you call yourselves, exists am I right? Well before I answer any of your questions, let me tell you a story. Now this is a story called The Truth. I do believe you have a right to know it. Everything you know about global warming and the hole in the ozone is pretty much true. Except for one major detail that we’ll discuss later. My father was, and still is a government official of the highest ranks. I did give my dad the idea of making floating cities when I was eleven. The government did star building and testing the cities. They called it the Atlantis Project. I had a vision that my idea would save the world and nobody would have to know that I did it. After years of building, testing, modifying, and more testing, through which they continued to consult me about, the Atlantis Project was declared successful. But my father, my very own dad, came up with a plot to sell off the cities to the rich. He, of all people, had to ruin the people’s saving grace. By then I was sixteen and feeling like I could take over the world I was so enraged. I attacked to first boat sent out to the cities and sunk the cities that had been sold. Then I exposed the cities to the public by broadcasting an infomercial about the cities though every TV, radio, mega-screen, and any other means possible. I rained pamphlets across the land just like I dropped the griffins in your city. The government arrested me and locked me away to drown in a prison on the east coast of America. But for them, it was too late. The public knew about the cities. The government was forced to send the people to the cities free of charge. They made up a cover story, mocking me by calling me the great Savior, telling each city that they were the last, that they must work to survive, and that I had died protection them. There are really hundreds of thousands of cities left, all of them giant, steam-run factories whose sole purpose is to produce revenue for the government and to control the people. Well, I escaped and now I go from city to city, sending an encoded message and hoping there will be people like you guys who will still have that creativity and ingenuity to crack the code and find me. I am working to spread the truth and liberate the people of Earth.” Griffen paused, pressing a finger to the small device in his ear, listening. He stood. “Follow me please.” He walked back into the other room and stopped at the base of the ladder. “Now for that one major detail.” He winked and climbed up the ladder. We all followed suit. I looked around me. Behind and beside us were the lapping ocean waves. In front of us was a vast mass of green rising up out of the ocean like a promise. “Welcome to America.”