The ground is cold under Patrick Gold’s bare feet. He walks briskly, clutching the gold coin in his threadbare jean pocket as he crunches through the bright autumn leaves. Patty’s heart flutters in anticipation as he shakes his shaggy blonde hair out of his gray eyes. He has a place to be. A very important place.
People push past him on the crowded street, calling out greetings to each other. If Patty wasn’t so focused on his destination, he would laugh at the concept of friends. Why bother getting attached to people if they will most likely be Captured anyway? Love is a foolish, foolish sin. He has lived a perfectly fine life without any kind of love. Everyone at school gets their hearts broken and cries for days, but Patty has never shed a tear over another person. Love is for the weak, and will only lead to pain and suffering.
Sirens wail and someone screams down the street, but Patty keeps running, faster and faster until he reaches his destination. The flutter in his heart turns into a dance of joy when he sees the faded sign and crumbling building. Everyone else that passes sees a simple grocery store, but Patty sees a world of possibility. As he scans the seemingly endless rows of food, his brain is spinning. He comes here at least once a week to beg, to cry until he is given something to fill his empty stomach. But today, he doesn’t have to. He can have anything that he wants, and he can barely comprehend that. His adolescent brain is wired to beg for everything, so simply buying has never been an option.
Patty’s eyes fall on an apple as red and shiny as a ruby. It’s perfect, just like something out of a story book. Patty reaches out and grasps it in his callused hands, holding it as if it is a precious bubble he doesn’t want to break. This, this is what he has been saving up for. His whole life, 12 years, all for this one apple. Something that is his and his only. Something that he earned.
The rich people eye him like he’s an alien as he beams at the fruit, but he pays them no mind. This moment is too special to let snobby people ruin it. Besides, he’s smarter and a better person than all of them. There’s a reason why the rich are Captured more than the poor, and that’s their pride. They think they’re above the law, unlike Patty, who is clever enough to know right where he lies.
Still smiling, Patty hurries toward the door, ready to gloat about his apple to his classmates. They would never believe him if he simply told them, so he would have to show them.
Suddenly, the shrill siren of a Capture begins to blare once more. Patty jumps and looks around, wondering whose misfortune he’s about to witness today. He’s seen so many Capturings that they don’t even phase him anymore, but he always enjoys seeing people’s reactions. Some accept their fate easily while others make a scene. If he was ever Captured, he wouldn’t put up a fight. After all, there’s nothing he would be able to do. But that would never happen, because he’s been too well trained to do anything that would solicit a Capturing.
It’s then that the cops materialize soundlessly right beside Patty. Before he knows what’s happening, he is thrown onto the floor. His head cracks on the cold linoleum, and stars float in front of his eyes. “What’s happening?” Patty wonders, until he notices his perfect apple lying an inch away from his hand. Nausea bubbles in his stomach when he realizes his grave mistake. “I stole the apple,” he murmurs, his voice shaking so badly he can barely speak. In his jubilation, he had forgotten to pay.
Suddenly, everything he swore he would never do didn’t matter. His brain went into pure survival mode. “No! No, please! I didn’t mean to!” Patty yells, trying to fight off the officer trying to handcuff him. “Please! No!” Surely he will be let off with a warning. He’s never seen it happen, but it must sometimes. It wasn’t his fault. Innocent people never get Captured. It is only the idiots who are dumb and proud, which Patty certainly isn’t.
“Toughen up, kid. You’re one of them now,” the officer snaps, kicking him sharply in the ribs and spitting in his face. One of them. One of the one thing Patty had promised himself he would never become; one of the tortured souls of Lepro.
“It was an accident, I swear!” He protests, but he already knows deep down that means nothing. That there’s no way for Patty to get out of this. In his town, there are no accidents. No second chances. No forgiveness. It’s one strike and you’re out. Out of the town, out of the country, probably out of the universe, to some far off place called Lepro. There are only rumors about what happens there, the least of which being tortured and locked away for the rest of your life.
The officers grab Patty and force him to stand still. He begins to cry and scream, but no one even glances at him. They all know how their world works. Anyone, even a baby, will be Captured if they so much as breathe the wrong way.
Patty’s mind wanders to his family. They won’t wonder about him. Once he misses curfew, they will know that he has been Captured. They won’t miss him, for he is one less mouth to feed. If anything, they are better off without him. Patty was just another nuisance to them. They never wanted to get to know him. They never loved him. This never bothered Patty until now. As the cops snap the handcuffs onto his wrists, he wishes his family were here. That they did love him, and would be heartbroken that he was being Captured. But, they aren’t. Not even the random people on the street care about Patty, and nobody ever will.
Once Patty stops fighting, the officers nod at each other, snap their fingers in unison, and disappear into another universe, the gold coin still heavy in Patty’s pocket.