By Kate P-B
3 years, 6 months, and 2 days since after
This is after. I wasn’t supposed to be here, not anymore. Excitement filled my body as I sprinted through the tall, green, trees of the forest. The wind was blowing through my hair, almost urging me to continue to run. Specks of light were only now beginning to fill up the sky. The forest was so quiet – the only sounds being my sneakers smacking the dirt with each step I took. The quiet sleepiness of the forest didn’t contrast well with my overwhelming excitement.
I accelerated once I noticed the sunlight begin to peek out from behind the trees. I better run faster, I thought to myself. I leaped over the small stream, leaving the sounds of soft running water far behind me. A small voice in the back of my head scolded me, telling me that I should turn around and go home before I got in trouble.
There was no way in hell I was turning around now, however. I was so close.
After what seemed like hours, I slowed down as I pushed myself through the bushes which were covering the hill. Finally, I was standing in front of it. There was no hesitation as I climbed up the hill, with anticipation and hope churning through my stomach. Please, don’t let me be too late.
I climbed higher and higher up the hill until I was finally standing at the top. It felt as if almost nobody could touch me where I stood. I felt a sense of triumph as I looked down below me. The wind seemed to calm down, only letting a few small breezes blow by me. Every time, the sunset never failed to leave me standing on the top of this hill cherishing every second. There was a reason I sprinted up to this very hill every year, no matter the circumstances. I smiled softly as the sun continued to sparkle and spread the smallest bit of joy over the melancholy city. It filled me with a sense of hope. It allowed me to think that maybe, just maybe, things were how they used to be. It allowed me to trick myself into thinking that I wasn’t in the “after”, but the before. Before, I was filled with hope and I called this place home. But it’s all a lie. Even with hope, I know.
This place isn’t my home anymore.
3 years, 6 months, and 2 days since after
I don’t know whether I should be angry or start crying when my scan report comes back as regular. It’s no surprise. I no longer feel the fear pulsing through my veins, the sweat dripping down my forehead, or that my knees are about to collapse in on each other as I used to each year. I just feel normal. Whatever normal is supposed to feel like.
The Troops want us to feel, look and act perfect. I don’t feel perfect. I haven’t felt perfect in years. Maybe I never really was.
Perfection has no longer become a desire, but a standard. When being flawless is expected, there’s no room for error. Not anymore.
I turn around, waiting for Charlotte to finish her scan. I watch as they look over her past actions, conversations, purchases, and interests from this year. We lock eyes, and she nervously runs her hand through her hair. Her hair has now been cut to rest precisely on her shoulders, a mandatory requirement set by the Troops.
“Stop that,” The man scanning her barks. “No physical contact with your head unless you want to be punished.” Charlotte immediately dropped her hand from her head and nodded.
“Apologies.” I’m welcomed again by a pulsating sense of fury, still in shock and horrified at what’s become of everyone. I am quick to calm myself down, in fear of any anger being shown on my face and getting punished. I force myself to lock eyes with her again, my cold expression meeting hers. Our faces are the same. We are both normal.
“16872. You have passed. You are perfect. Congratulations, human. You may proceed to the exit.” Charlotte nods quietly and walks slowly to the exit, following me. I turn around, about to say something. I want to tell her that it’s not her fault she got in trouble and that touching her hair is just a nervous habit. I want to tell her to have hope.
“Stop. We haven’t been exiled yet. Turn back around. You know you can’t say my name yet,” She interrupts. Sadness drips from her voice as she speaks softly. She looks so shrunken in on herself that it looks as if the wind could blow her away.
As Charlotte and I approach the exit, flanked by many other ‘perfect humans’, a Troop forces us to come to a stop. The troop motions for all of us to turn around. I already know what we’re all about to see. The animals are being dragged away.
“What you see right now, are the animals of this year’s scan. They are people who choose to be strange. People who desire to throw their life away and not follow the simple rules outlined by the Troops.” I knew these phrases by heart. I’ve heard them for 3 years now. “These people are imperfect.” We all watch in silence as they are carried away by the Troops, crying and screaming. I am overwhelmed with sadness and grief as their echoes of pleas for help and forgiveness slowly fade as they get transported out the back.
I still have no idea where the ‘animals’ are sent. The troops tell us it’s a place where they learn their lesson. A place where they regret being animals. A place where they have nothing but themselves. Charlotte and I exchange blank glances before we are all given the clear to exit the Scanning Room.
As we exit the dark building, I slightly squint my eyes as I’m welcomed once more by the city of gray. People are just beginning their day now. All of these are people that look just like Charlotte and I do. I look around me. It’s the same view from last year. The tall, gray buildings, the smoky, dark skies, and the sad, loud sounds of automobiles. They are all identical to each other. Nobody says a word. I begin to walk, aware of Charlotte’s presence close behind me.
I walk deeper and deeper into the city, leaving my old home, the forest, and the bright hopeful sunset behind me. All I am left with is the reassurance that I will see those things again in 364 days.
I look up. It’s cloudy.
“Congrats, Char. We’re perfect another year.”
Human. Noun. Definition of human: a bipedal primate mammal. Animal. Noun. A living organism that feeds on organic matter.
I wish I was an animal.
About the Author
Kate P-B is a rising freshman at Crystal Springs Uplands School. She enjoys playing lacrosse, singing, and writing exciting stories in her free time.