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The stone hollow echoed with dozens of small breaths and the clunky shuffling of chairs and tables. The lighting pulsated, from glowing orbs, the color of mandarins, positioned near walls throughout the room. Every child in the room was quiet in fear of disobeying and in pure content that today was another school day. Eilig sat in the back left of the room, at an ancient wooden desk with years worth of scratches and pen marks. Everyone else’s desks were identical: a scribbled-out heart an inch away from the corner, a deep, inch long scratch on the side. The silence was contagious until a woman entered the room, with hare-like features she clutched a clipboard, needle-like claws holding the soft wood in place.
“Good morning, students.” An instant reply echoed from the motionless children in the room, including Eilig. A girl’s sooty-colored, large ears twitched briefly in from of him. “Please take out your books.”
Eilig reached into his school bag, pulling out a hefty book. As the woman stepped down from the front of the room, identical books thumped into place on the desks. On the inside cover of the book read the Civilian’s Agreement:
1. Stay within the lines.
2. Be a helpful member of your community.
3. Remain in your home at night.
4. Do no harm.
5. Appreciate beauty. Drawn next to the last one was a picture of the glowing lights and the indigo city, in full color amid the black-and-white of the rest of the text. He began reading the assigned section. 200 years ago our brave state fought to eradicate the world of war and the ultimate sin of independent thoughts. Before our society was established, there were countless wars, genocides, and hatreds towards each other that were all caused by people’s individual brains. Here, in the present, we can finally appreciate the power and rightness of being as one. He continued reading. It was soon after that the government perfected the Survival Technology, and every citizen was genetically modified with that of a native species of animal, guaranteeing survival among the bitter cold of wartime. Eilig looked up from his reading; the other children were doing the same, but some were glancing around the room while doing so, enjoying the raw beauty of the cave they were studying in. The boy next to him had warm, canine eyes and was staring, relaxed, at the glowing orb over his shoulder.
Eilig closed his eyes; after last night’s lack of sleep, his thinking was foggy and his heartbeat was slow. As his eyes closed a thought raced through his head. What did I just read? It didn’t feel logical at the moment. How can thinking be a sin? He jerked awake, abruptly prodding his neighbor with his budding horns. He yelped in surprise, then went back to reading and gawking at the relaxing orbs. As Eilig glanced at one, his thoughts jumbled again. Well of course being different is bad! As he looked away, the same protesting thoughts came back. Curiosity overwhelmed him, and he poked the fox-boy next to him. He didn’t react, eyes still glued to the orbs, as many others still were. He mumbled, drowsily, “Isn’t it beautiful in here? I just can’t get around to the reading.” He paused. “I feel so at peace.” His words drowned down to a sigh at the end, right as someone cleared their throat and the next lesson began.
Eilig left school, starting down the winding, glittering blue path to the bottom of the city, where he and his family lived. His hooves clicked softly on the sparkling quartz and various ores. The sky up above swirled in dark, mysterious galaxies even though it was only 3pm. It had been this way since Eilig was born: no sun, as the sun was feared, and dark, relaxing night time continued for years at a time.
He reached his home, carved into the deep, vibrant rock, and opened the door. His parents were in their front room, tidying excessively.
“Hello, Eilig,” they chimed together. “Please help us. We’re expecting company.” Eilig looked confused. He rarely saw anyone not of his family except for when he went to school. He went down the hall to drop his bag off in his room. His sister’s room was across the hall, and vacant. His thoughts were very clear after his strange discovery from earlier. Because he wasn’t brainwashed, this sight shocked him. He peeked in. His sister’s belonging were tidily packaged up into bulging cardboard boxes. Not a single thing was left in the room except a barren bed frame and one of the lights in the middle of the ceiling, casting a golden glow on all the walls, which made him feel momentarily lighthearted while noticing it. He jerked his head away and skipped quickly back into the front room, worried.
His mother was dusting their old, high-definition television. It was on, and through the wisps of feathers, Eilig saw a wolfish newsman cheerily discussing the week’s weather forecast.
“Clear skies throughout the month.” The skies had always been clear since Eilig’s birth. He confronted his parents.
“Where’s Iris?” His voice shook even though he tried to cover it up. His mother looked at him with warm, doe eyes.
“Iris has been Removed. It is for the best for our family that she be taken away due to actions or items found to be hers.” She quoted the Civilian’s agreement flawlessly. A pang of sorrow shot through his heart. His heart skipped a beat. The strange feeling came again, tugging his heart down to the pit of his stomach. He had never felt like this before. An orange glow reflected in his mother’s inhuman eyes.
A knock on the door caused Eilig to flinch nervously and back away towards the hall. Peeking timidly, he saw his father’s bulky hands twist the brass knob, and heard the gears shift inside. A tall, strong looking man with massive, velvety antlers in the indigo suit that government workers wear was standing on the porch. Eilig ducked away, into his sister’s room. With his heartbeat in his ears, he saw something hidden in the bed frame as he was catching his breath. Glancing about, he nervously walked over to it and pried it out from the wood. It was a piece of paper, folded many times until it was a solid rectangular block of dead tree. He clutched it tightly in his hand, prancing across the hall to hide it under his bed. The mysterious stag’s voice rang throughout the house. His father’s voice called for him, and he masked a smile as he walked, almost robotically, out from his cover.
“This man has come to remove Iris’ possessions from our home.”
“Why has she been Removed, sir?” Eilig tried his best to appear under the influence of the lights, but even the stag looked at him like the “sir” was overkill.
His voice was booming and reached Eilig’s very core. “We have found written prose in her possession that clearly opposes our morals and beliefs. Multiple written texts were found, and she was Removed at 2:38 this afternoon.” He droned on, and then moved forward, walked down the hall, and returned with one of the heavy boxes. After he finished taking all the boxes and the bed frame from the house, all the while Eilig still standing perfectly still and in shock, Eilig’s mother shut the door behind him.
“Have a good evening.” She went into the kitchen, put a pot of water on the stove, and waited silently. His father walked in after her.
“What’s for dinner, dear?”
After dinner, Eilig rushed to his room, back to the piece of paper he had wedged under his mattress. It was still there, and he carefully unfolded it, being careful not to look directly at the light hovering above his bed. It was crumpled in some places, but the writing was legible. He skimmed over it. There once were days where the sun shone on the ground every morning...The people went to and from their jobs, wrote letter, stories, poems by the light of swinging electric bulb...They elected presidents, made their own decisions… Nowhere in the story did it mention anything that Eilig was familiar with. What’s a president? What does electric mean? He was huddled in the corner, away from the light’s glow. On the top line it read, “Iris, Age 13.” This paper was years old. They must have found others. He hastily folded the paper back up, shoved it in a coat pocket, and quickly put it on. He slipped out the door.
The streets were empty because most people were still having dinner. He stepped down the path leading up to the house, and watching another truck that was identical to the one that had taken his sister’s belongings, noted its direction. It went left, into a dark cave, lighted occasionally by one of the lights. He hurried down the pathway into the dark. The lights caused the shadows to be a deep, solemn blue on the glittering ground. He walked quickly, a stale wind passed through the fur on the side of his neck. Nobody seemed to notice him as he walked straight through to the end of the tunnel.
A few people were in a room at the end of the hallway, lighted bright orange by the intoxicating lights. One stoat, a rabbit, and a ruddy fox. He stormed past them silently. They noticed, and instead of shouting, were curious, as if talking to a toddler.
“What are you doing here, kid?” They were smiling. “This is not the place for someone like you.”
With a disgusted look on his face, Eilig ignored their comments and continued to the back of the narrow room. Here was a large, shiny, red lever, labeled Main Power. Eilig had an assumption, and if that assumption was right, this was exactly what he needed to do. He grabbed it, both hands, and shoved it down with all of his weight.
The lights flickered off, but there was a new form of light emanating from somewhere. Confused shouting began, and Eilig ran out of the room, half out of fear, half out of curiosity of why it was not completely dark. Exiting the tunnel, there were people in the streets, all being lit by a peculiar bluish light. They were looking up, some screaming, all in awe or fear. Ears were plastered to heads and tails were between legs. Above the city was light blue, brighter than any of the lights Eilig had seen in his lifetime. He almost tripped. In ridding the world of the lights, he had brought the evil back into the world.
Panicked, he ran past his house. Sirens echoed in the distance. He heard mumblings.
“It was some roe deer kid.” They all seemed out of breath. He collapsed in an alleyway. If the sun was supposedly so evil, why hadn’t anything happened yet? No one had burst into flame, as some of his classmates in elementary school had hypothesized. Shuddering, tired, and out of breath, two wolves found him, one picking him up. They dumped him in the back of a blue van, Removal Services painted on the side.
When Eilig woke, he was in a dark, stale smelling room. He was confused, panicked, and his arms and legs ached. He sat in a maroon plush chair. Across from him sat a woman. He cringed. She had no Survival Technology. Her hair was a light, platinum blonde, but was wholly human. No fox’s snout, no deer’s antlers, no wolf’s fur, no hare’s ears. Her eyes were piercing and his breath caught in his throat. Lighting the room were a series of glass balls with light flowing through. Electricity? She began speaking.
“You know you’ve done something unspeakable.” Eilig nodded, mortified. “You know.” She paused. “And for that reason, you have been asked to be disposed of.” Disposed of? What does that mean? He couldn’t speak. She stood up, without a word more, and walked up to him, stroking the fur on his cervine head. She chuckled, her voice bittersweet.
“A silly-looking invention, really, the Survival Technology. Makes me feel like I’m in some fairy tale.” She walked back to her desk and pressed a button, speaking into a microphone.
“Come and take him away.”
A young doe walked into the room, eyes glazed and black, with markings like Eilig and a face like Eilig. She put her hands over his mouth before he could cry out and guided him away. Tears clouded his vision. Then, turning a corner, she shoved him through an open door into an empty room, locking the door behind him. The smoke began to pour in.