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The sound of alarm clocks ripple through the air. Then at the exact same time they all turn off. Simultaneously, feet swing off the bed onto the ground. Old feet, young feet, black feet, white feet, in house after house all the feet are placed on the ground at the same time. Then the body’s of the feet stand. All at the same time in house after house, room after room. All like robots. But then after that its different.
Everyone starts their morning routine. First I take a shower. Then I brush my teeth, get dressed in a depressing gray shirt and black pants. Then walk, not skip, not run like it should be, but walk. I walk down the stairs and join my mother, Tammy Stone, my father, Jonathan Stone, and little sister, Reese Stone, at breakfast.
“Sleep well?” asks my mother like she does every day. All three of us nod, even my four year old sister. She sits up in her high chair silently eating her cereal one by one. This is not how it should be. Then like usual I stand up and place my bowl in the sink just like all the other teenagers are doing right now in their homes. With the same movements just like mine. Even when I pick up my backpack in the same place its always been, in every single house.
When I open the door the house’s door next to ours opens. And so does the next one, and the next one, and the next one, and on from that. Teenagers all the same age, seventeen, because we were all born on the same day, nearly the same time. And its the same for my sister. Each home on the block had a seventeen year old and a four year old with thirty-five year old parents. Everything’s the same.
All of us walk to school, in a perfect line, all perfectly spaced. Even our foot steps are the same. This is torture. This is not how it’s supposed to be. Is anyone else awake? Can anyone else think freely as I can? I can’t be noticed. No one can know I’m awake. But this is torture. Everyday is the same. One after another. I have to get out.
Once we are all in school things change. Everyone wakes up, almost. Laughter echos through the halls of school. Friends talk to one another and smile. Here in school we are free, almost. Our every move is still watched. By the Watchers. Whoever made up the name for them isn’t very creative, but then again no one is here. In Socaria.
“Peter,” called a voice behind me. I turned to see Uri running towards me, blond curls bouncing.
“Hey Uri,” I said.
“Next week we turn Eighteen,” announced Uri excitedly.
“Yeah I know,” I groaned. Uri’s smile faded.
“How can you not be excited? Eighteen,” exclaimed Uri holding up his fingers showing a one on one hand and a trying to make an eight with the other.
“Yes I know. And our parents turn thirty-six and our little siblings turn five and they start school.” This is not how it’s supposed to be.
“Do you know what happens when we turn eighteen,” asked Uri shoving his pointer finger in my face. I wrenched open my locker and loaded my backpack with books.
“Yes, we graduate.”
“And,” Uri pressed on.
“Get a job.” That and graduating are the only things that are supposed to happen.
“Get married.” That is not normal.
“Exactly!” Yelled Uri in my face and a wad of spit landed on my face just under my eye. I wiped it off with my shoulder. “I hope I marry Keasa,” continued Uri fantasizing about the girl he’s had a crush on since we joined school.
As Uri rambled on about how gorgeous Keasa was I looked at my clock. 8:00. All the dad’s are standing up from their table right now and going to work. Then all of a sudden Uri was frantically slapping my arm.
“Shhh! Keasa’s coming.”
“I wasn’t even saying any-”
“What?,” exclaimed Keasa’s best friend, Lianna. If we had any freedom it was how we did our hair. And Lianna took advantage of that. Everyday she had her hair in a crazy style and it was always different colors. Today her hair was in the shape of a giant bow atop her head and it was the color pink. The pink popped against her dark skin. “How can you not be excited? We are getting married next week for heaven’s sake!”
Keasa sighed and tucked a piece of shiny black hair behind her ear and her blue eyes were just like everyone else's, dull and blind to the truth. I’ve never actually noticed any girls before. Not even Keasa who had all the boys drooling over her.
“Who do you want to marry? I hope I get to marry Peter,” she sang then quickly glanced over at me.
“Time to go,” I said slamming my locker and pulling the love drunk Uri behind me. Lianna has been in love with me as long as Uri has been in love with Keasa, which was forever.
When we walk into class we sit down. It’s 8:08. We still have two minutes to talk. I listen to Uri go on about Keasa’s “glorious raven like hair” and “never ending sea blue eyes” even “clear beautiful pale skin.”
Finally exactly at 8:10 everyone stops talking, instantly faces the front and the Mr. Burns, the math teacher, starts to talk. Everyone one does exactly the same thing. They do what was programmed for the day. In every single math class. Everyone is learning the same thing. And I am the only one that knows it’s happening.
I’ve been practicing resisting the commands. Once I stayed in bed an extra twelve seconds. It’s not much and it was extremely hard, I just hope no one noticed. I don’t know what would happen if someone did find out.
Finally the lessons over and we are released from the curse. A breath is released as if the class was holding their breath during the hour lesson. Uri and I gather our stuff and walk out of class. On our way to our next class, science, we spot familiar fire colored hair.
“Asumi,” I call out and the fire colored hair turns around and a freckled face smiles at us.
“Hi guys,” Asumi greets cheerfully as always. “Aren’t you excited about next week,” she starts off. She’s just like Uri, once they start talking they can’t stop. They are perfect for each other. “We get married!” She squeals and bounces on her toes, hugging her books to her chest. “I wonder who I’ll marry. I hope he’s handsome. And tall and strong. I hope he likes to read so we can talk about good books. Oh and I hope he has blue eyes. I love blue eyes-oh and dimples. I love dimples. And blonde hair-no dirty blonde you know...” Asumi rambled on and on about her dream guy. Which basically was Uri. Blue eyes, dimples, dirty blonde hair, he even likes to read. And I think Uri was starting to notice that too, because he was starting to back away.
“You know who I think will be perfect for you,” Asumi announced suddenly pointing a small finger towards me, “Keasa.” Uri’s eyes widened in surprise and I just looked back at her in confusion, Me and Keasa?
“Oh come’n, you don’t see it?” Asumi asked. I shook my head. “You too are perfect for each other. You both don’t seem to care about anything. And you too are the only people I know that have the same look in your eye. Like you don’t want to be here. Which is strange because who wouldn’t want to be here? I mean Socaria is perfect.” I’d beg to differ. “Also both of you are popular. Like a all the guys want Keasa except you and all the girls want you except Keasa. And-”
“Whoa whoa whoa, wait,” I interrupted shaking my head. “First of all me and Keasa that’s a crazy idea. Second of all all the girls want me?” I thought it was only Lianna.
“Yeah,” Asumi said slowly like I was supposed to know this. “All the girls talk about you around school.” After thinking about wether this statement was true or not I shook my head.
“Well we got to get to class,” I said simply walking away not waiting for Uri to follow me.
When we sat down we still had two minutes left and Uri started talking my ear off again. “You and Keasa?”
“Yeah I don’t know what she was talking about,” I say just to satisfy him. But then after that I zoned out.
Keasa and I have the same look in our eyes? That doesn’t make any sense. Does that mean? No, I’m the only one awake. I looked at her eyes this morning and they were empty. Where they?
The whole class looks towards the front robotically, even me. We all picked up our pencils and started writing as the teacher started talking. This went on for an hour. Then in the next class it went on for another hour.
Then finally lunch.
“Peter! Uri!” Asumi called us from the lunch table waving us down as if we were looking for her. I don’t know why she does that, we sit at the same table in the middle of the lunch room every day. As we get closer I see Eliot sitting across from Asumi. His head was bowed over his plate so his long black hair blocked off most of his face.
“Hey Eliot,” I greet sitting down next to Asumi. Eliot looks up through his long eyelashes.
“Hey,” he mumbles simply then looks back at his plate. I roll my eyes at him. The most I’ve heard him say at once was three words.
“Hey wait Asumi,” I say realizing something, “if you say I’m ‘popular’,” I make quotes with my fingers when I say ‘popular’,”then how come I sit at the misfits table?”
“Maybe because you’re a misfit.” Pierce sits a seat away from me slamming her tray on the table. Pierce flings her work boots up onto the table and leans back in her chair. She grabs a carrot off her plate and puts the whole thing in her mouth. “This,” she announces through her chewed carrot gesturing wildly to the table, “is where you belong.”
Pierce is by far the most rebellious girl I know. She is always seeming to get away with things. Including her nose piercing, large man work boots, and her sassy attitude. Her blonde hair was cropped short and her bangs nearly covered her eyes. Piercing green eyes narrowed at everyone. She was feared at the school. Thats how she got the name, Pierce. Not to mention she was very tall which just added to her intimidation.
“Thanks Pierce,” I smile sarcastically, “you make me feel so much better about myself.”
Pierce takes a swig of her milk and says, “That’s what I’m here for.”
Then chatter starts around us. The lunch room echos with conversations and laughter. I sit and listen. There’s laughter and happiness, but it’s empty. This is not how it’s supposed to be. I don’t know how I know that. I just know, it’s not supposed to be like this.
All conversation stops. Everyone in the lunch room gets up and gets in line to throw their lunch tray away. Every student files out of the cafeteria in a single file line. But as soon as we step out of the giant double doors we wake up. I get outside before Uri does so I wait for him.
Finally I see him and we make eye contact so I turn around to head to my locker. But as I do I run into someone.
“Oof,” The girl gasps.
“Sorry,” I mumble and look down. Then Keasa looks up at me and our eyes meet. Her eyes. They aren’t dull. They’re... awake. And I’m sure she notices that about my eyes, because we stare into each others eyes unbelievingly. Her blue eyes are like saucers.
“Keasa,” called someone behind her and we are broken from our trance.
“Coming,” Keasa yells not taking her eyes from mine, then slowly she turns away and runs. And I watch her go.
“What was that all about,” asks Uri coming up by my side, jealousy dripping in his voice. I stare for a little longer watching her talk to Lianna laughing about something Lianna just said. Her eyes...
“I don’t know,” I say finally.
Then Uri and I head to class.
After school gets out at exactly three o’clock the students have two hours of free time, but we are restricted to a few areas. Ice Cream Shoppe, Pizza Joint, or the Recreation Center we decided to go to Pizza Joint because it was Breadstick Thursday. We go find Asumi, Eliot, and Pierce and then we all walk the ten blocks to Pizza Joint.
“I don’t get why we still have to learn stuff,” starts Asumi. “I mean we graduate in...” Asumi counts on her fingers how many days, “four days left and two of them aren’t even at school. I mean...” I block Asumi out. And so do Uri and Pierce who are engaged in a heated conversation about who can eat the most. Eliot is next to Asumi and has his head cocked in the way he does when he starts to get annoyed. But Asumi doesn’t notice.
I look around. All the houses are the same, on the inside and outside. Same size, same color even has the same amount of people living in the house, age and all. Only in this sector. In Sector 1 is the newly weds who just graduated last year and will be having kids soon. And Sector 3 is the parents of the newly weds who still have one child in their house a few years younger than us. But after that theirs none. No one gets grandparents. Here we only live till fifty, long enough to see our first grandchild. Then the society “helps” us leave the world.
We live in a messed up cruel world.
When we finally reach the Pizza Joint we sit at our usual table in the usual spots. Asumi and Eliot on the inside next to the wall. Then Pierce next to eliot and Uri next to Asumi, then I sat on the outside next to Uri. We order the free breadsticks.
“Peter!” I flinch at my name being called. I look up to see Uri and Pierce standing up and scowling at each other from across the table.
“Peter, tell this ditz that guys will always surpass girls,” demands Uri.
“Then tell me this you featherbrained nose-picker,” demanded Pierce, “how come I can run faster than you, not to mention I’m taller.”
“Featherbrained nose-picker?” laughs Asumi. “That’s a new one.”
“Because, you vacuous moron I just so happened to be cursed to be forever short. But I could easily beat you in wrestling, I am obviously stronger than you.”
“Vacuous?” exclaimed Asumi. “Uri when did you learn such big words?”
“Oh yeah,” challenged Pierce.
“Yeah lets go. Come on, you think I’m afraid of a skinny twig with a nose pierce?”
With every comment they got closer and closer. Pierce leaned in so close their noses were almost touching.
“You should be,” Pierce hissed so quietly it sent chills down my spine. Pierce’s and Uri’s eyes were narrowed, shooting daggers at one another.
“You think I am?” Uri spit back, his voice full of venom.
“Hey!” Yelled a stern voice. Our attention was turned to Thomas, the Pizza Joint owner. He had an apron on dirtied with pizza sauce. “If you two fight in my restaurant again I’ll call the Watchers on you!” That shut Uri and even Pierce right up. No one wants to get in trouble with the Watchers.
Asumi couldn’t stop laughing. “You guys are funny,” she smiled.
“They’re gonna get us in trouble one day,” mumbled Eliot. We all looked at him surprised. But before we could respond two baskets of breadsticks were set on our table.
“Here you guys go,” said Bella, the waitress who always seems to wait our table even though her area is on the other side of the restaurant.
“Thank you,” I said smiling up at her.
“No problem,” she blushed smiling a nervous smile at me then hurried away. What was that all about?
“You know,” Uri said looking at Bella confused, “I’m starting to think Asumi was right.”
“I was,” blurted out Asumi, “I told you I was. Wait right about what?” That comment made me smile. Asumi was cute, but a little bit of an airhead.
“That thing you said about a lot of girls liking Peter.”
“What,” I choked on the water I was drinking and started coughing. “You’re... crazy,” I commented in between coughs.
“Didn’t you just see Bella,” asked Uri.
“I think you’re right,” agreed Pierce.
“You do?” asked Uri puzzled.
“Yeah, I see it now.”
“You guys are all crazy,” I brushed it off wanting to change the subject.
“Fine whatever, but when your wife is announced at graduation I wouldn’t be surprised if all the girls started crying or a riot,” laughed Uri. I just rolled my eyes at him.
Just then the door opened to the Pizza Joint and two girls walked in. One short girl in a dull gray skirt and white blouse, and another taller girl in a white dress and pink hair. Keasa and Lianna. The second she walked in Keasa looked over at me and our eyes met and we got caught in the same trance as before. Her eyes they’re awake, just like mine. I couldn’t believe it. Then Lianna bumped into Keasa and the trance was broken. Keasa’s face was red and she glanced briefly over at me before walking over to another booth.
“Hey Peter,” Pierce’s voice was muffled by a mouth full of breadstick, “you going to eat yours?” I shook my head and looked back over to Keasa, but she was sitting with her back turned to me. I did attract the attention of Lianna though and she smiled at me and waved. Being nice I quickly waved back then returned my attention to the group.
“Who were you waving at?” asked Asumi turning around to see. “Oh Lianna, see there’s another girl who’s in love with you.”
“That’s only one, plus she’s had a crush on me since initiation when we were five.”
“I bet Keasa likes you too,” teased Pierce and I saw Uri flinch out of the corner of my eye.
“She doesn’t like anybody,” I state, “And wants the point of it we don’t get to pick who we marry so what’s the point of liking someone? You’re only setting yourself up for disappointment in the end.”
“You sound like Eliot-no offense Eliot,” Asumi said and Eliot responded with a grunt.
“Whatever,” I mutter standing up. “I got homework.” I grabbed my backpack, stuffed my hand in my pockets and walked out the door. No one followed me and I was glad. I didn’t feel like talking anyone. But I spoke to soon.
“Peter!” What now?? I turned around to see a black haired girl in a dull gray skirt and white blouse running after me. Who is that? “Peter,” the girl shouted again clearly out of breath. Then I realized who it was. Keasa. Instantly, I looked behind her to see if Lianna was following her. No Lianna.
“Keasa?” What was she doing?
“Peter,” Keasa gasped when she finally reached me. “I need to talk to you.” I looked around. We were in the middle of the street. In plain view of the Watchers.
“Well this isn’t the place to do it.” I grabbed Keasa’s hand and pulled her down the nearest alley which was the back of the Pizza Joint. There was a door on the back of the Pizza Joint. A storage room. Quickly, I yanked the door open and went inside pulling Keasa behind me. It was dark and I searched the wall for a switch. Found it. The room was small and packed with boxes with a space in the middle that barely fit two people. Barely.
“What is it Keasa,” I asked looking down at her. Slowly Keasa looked up at me searching for my eyes, but I refused to make eye contact. Instead I stared at her small nose.
“Are you...” Keasa asked trailing off. I still wasn’t looking at her eyes. But she grabbed my chin and held it in place. “Look at me,” she demanded sternly, but her voice was still sweet and dripping with honey. I found her eyes. I couldn’t believe it. She was awake.
“I can’t believe it,” I whispered finally.
“How?” Keasa asked her voice airy.
“I don’t know,” I answered. “I’ve always been... awake.”
“Me too,” she replied. Keasa slowly took her hand off my chin then looked away. I wish she hadn’t. “It’s torture.” Her voice was no longer drenched in honey, but in pain. It made me angry. How could they do this to us? Why are all these people forced to live in a dream, but we are cursed to be awake?
“What are we going to do?” Keasa asked quietly.
“Is there anything we can do?” We were quiet for a while. I looked down at the top of her head. She was so small and fragile.
“I still can’t believe,” Keasa broke the silence. She looked up at me her eyes brimmed with tears. “I thought I was the only one.” Then all of a sudden, Keasa hugged me. She buried her face in my chest and hugged me. I tensed at first, not knowing what to do, but then I relaxed and wrapped my arms around her and hugged her back.
“There has got to be a reason we are awake,” I whispered. “I just know it.”
“Keasa!” Lianna was looking for Keasa. Reluctantly we let go of each other. She looked up at me one last time and smiled. Then she opened the door and ran out.
“Keasa,” shrieked Lianna, “why were you down that ally?”
“I uh,” stammered Keasa, “I thought I saw someone and I went to go look.”
“Well hurry up,” ordered Lianna.
“Coming.” I stood in the storage room, listening to their footsteps fade away.
I’m not the only one.
I turned out the light and walked out of the room, down the alley, and to my house. I hated going home. Everything was so depressing. But where else could I go?
“Three more days,” squealed Asumi the next day at lunch. “I’m so excited!”
“Yes we know you are,” groaned Pierce who was rubbing her temples. “Now would you please stop screaming?”
Asumi giggled. “Oops,” she said innocently, “sorry.”
I only saw Keasa once today. This morning when we were at our lockers. And we glanced at each other briefly. She gave me a small smile then walked away with Lianna on her tail. Uri looked at me questionably, but quickly dismissed it.
After school we all walked home. The first house was Eliot’s. Next was Pierce’s. Then Asumi’s and after that Uri’s. Mine was last.
“How was your day?” asked my mother as soon as I walked in the door, like she does everyday.
“Good,” I responded as always.
“Brother,” cried Reese cheerfully. “Come read to me!”
“I’ll be down in a bit sis,” I replied. “Got to do homework.”
“Ok brother. Hurry.”
My sister was the only one that was “happy”, but that would all change once she started school.
Saturday’s were working days. Uri, Asumi, Pierce, and I worked at the Recreation Center. We had no idea where Eliot worked. We always joked that he worked at the cemetery. We worked all day cleaning the Recreation Center, which was a big place so it always took a long time.
“Anyone want free popcorn,” yelled Pierce from the concessions stand.
“Depends,” Uri yelled back from the Library, “where’d you find it?”
Pierce paused, rethinking. “Never mind!”
“That’s what I thought!” I laughed silently while I mopped the ping pong room.
Sunday’s everybody, except the parents, were confined to their houses. I usually read or did my homework. Sometimes I read to Reese, but Reese normally slept all day.
Sunday’s were quiet and dull, but all day I was nervous. Tomorrow I’d be graduating. And getting married. This is not how it’s supposed to be. So why was it like this? Who made Socaria like this? Why? I hated it.
“May 1st is certainly a day to remember,” Sebastian Harrison announced into a microphone at the ceremony. Sebastian Harrison was the leader of Socaria. His great grandfather Arthur Harrison was the founder of Socaria. “May 1st is the day of all our births. The day of our anniversaries. The day of our ancestors death. The day Socaria was founded. It is a day to remember.” I hated him. His ancestors were responsible for this dream we were forced to live.
“Today is the day for the Fifth Generation. The day they graduate and receive a mate and go off and live their lives together. So I would just like to say congratulations Fifth Generation for today is the day you begin your lives.” Sebastian paused letting his words sink in. He scanned the crowd with his gray eyes. He was young. His wife and new born daughter were sitting next to him up on the stage.
In the middle of town was where we held the ceremonies. A stage was set up every year for the ceremony. The graduates would stand categorized by gender and alphabetically in front of the stage. Then bleachers were set up around them for the families to sit and watch.
I looked around for my family. I found them. My mother and father were smiling up at Sebastian Harrison, listening intently to his every word. I have decided I looked most like my mother. Same light brown hair and dark blue eyes. We also shared the same smile. But other than that I was like my father. We both had the same square jaw line and our personalities were the same. My father had short cropped black hair. My sister had the same black hair and brown eyes as my father, but had the sweet soft face of my mother.
“I will begin announcing the couples to be married.” Sebastian’s words interrupted my thoughts. “I will do it as it’s always been done. Announcing the men in alphabetical order, then announcing their spouses. First, Eliot Aberdeen.” I saw Eliot stiffly walk up the stage and stand next to Sebastian. It had always puzzled me how the Council always picked “perfect” matches for everyone.
“Eliot’s match will be,” declared Sebastian Harrison looking at a paper he had on a clipboard, “Susannabeth Dawson.” Everyone turned their heads to see who it was. A small girl, smaller than Keasa, walked up to the front. She had long wavy brown hair that was like a curtain around her face. She had a shy, quiet look to her. Definitely Eliot’s match.
“Eliot and Susannabeth Aberdeen,” proclaimed Sebastian Harrison. Everyone clapped. Then the rest of the matching continued.
“Thomas and Riley Carlson.”
“Alexander and Lianna George.”
“Uri Johnson,” called Sebastian Harrison. Uri walked up the stage shaking. “Uri’s match will be... Amelia Brown.” Pierce? Uri and Pierce? The wide eyed Pierce joined Uri up on stage. Uri and Pierce exchanged scared looks. I looked around for Asumi and her eyes were full of disappointment.
“Uri and Amelia Johnson.” That one surprised everyone.
“Benjamin and Asumi Miller.” Benjamin was a tall blonde, freckled face, glasses wearing boy. Anyone could guess that as Asumi’s match.
Names after names. Matches after matches. One after another everyone was named a spouse.
“Peter Stone.” I walked up onto the stage. Thousands of eyes looking up at me. I scanned the girls in the back and found Keasa. She wasn’t looking at me. I wish she would. I found my parents. My mother smiled, my father gave me a thumbs up, and Reese waved.
“Peter’s match will be...” My heart pounded in my ears and my hands were sweaty. I hated this. It’s not supposed to be this way.