All Nonfiction Bullying Books Academic Author Interviews Celebrity interviews College Articles College Essays Educator of the Year Heroes Interviews Memoir Personal Experience Sports Travel & CultureAll Opinions Bullying Current Events / Politics Discrimination Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking Entertainment / Celebrities Environment Love / Relationships Movies / Music / TV Pop Culture / Trends School / College Social Issues / Civics Spirituality / Religion Sports / Hobbies
- Summer Guide
- College Guide
- Author Interviews
- Celebrity interviews
- College Articles
- College Essays
- Educator of the Year
- Personal Experience
- Travel & Culture
- Current Events / Politics
- Drugs / Alcohol / Smoking
- Entertainment / Celebrities
- Love / Relationships
- Movies / Music / TV
- Pop Culture / Trends
- School / College
- Social Issues / Civics
- Spirituality / Religion
- Sports / Hobbies
- Community Service
- Letters to the Editor
- Pride & Prejudice
- What Matters
He could hear them, twelve footsteps, maybe more. And then the principal’s sharp voice cut through the stale air of his cell.
“Yes, that’s him,” she said. “The difference. I assume he and the Jarek boy situation are connected. Go on, he won’t fight you.”
This is it, he thought to himself, and the door burst open.
2 Days Earlier
The therapist had more hair on his upper lip than he did on the top of his head. He was thin and tall, with circular spectacles in front of his old eyes, and long fingers that drummed against his clipboard as the youth in front of him spoke.
“I can’t explain it,” the boy said. He was maybe fourteen or fifteen, but his expression made him look much younger. “One day I’m perfectly normal, exactly the same as my peers, and then...”
“Go on, Jarek,” the therapist encouraged. “Your teacher said you were showing signs in class of a very serious condition. You need to talk about it so that we can find out what’s wrong, if it’s a disease that needs to be cured.”
“Alright.” Jarek took a deep breath, looking at the ground. “Well... then I just looked at her, and I felt the strangest thing. My heartbeat picked up and my stomach became all fluttery, and all I could look at was her lips.”
“Why did you keep staring at her mouth?” The therapist asked.
“Because...” The boy fidgeted, looking uncomfortable. “Because I wanted to...”
“Yes?” the therapist prodded.
“Yes. I know it’s wrong! But I wanted it more than anything! The way she looked at me... I could tell she wanted to. It hurts though. That I couldn’t. It hurts.”
The therapist folded his hands. He could remember a time very long ago, when those feelings weren’t a problem. Before there was a cure.
“Well what ‘s wrong with me?!” The boy cried, distraught. “None of my friends feel this way. They laugh at me. And my mother says it’s a disease, like I’m not right in the head!”
“Yes, yes it is. But don’t worry,” the therapist said. “Though cases like this are becoming increasingly rare, it can be easily treated.”
“So... you’re giving me The Pill.. to make it go away?”
“I’m not sure yet, Jarek. Sexual urges are very common in people only a little older than you, and that’s normally when you have to begin to take medication. But this feeling you speak of seems different...” There was a terrible twist in the therapist’s stomach. Jarek looked so hopeful, bursting with a light that not many people had. “Do you think you can fight these feelings?”
“I don’t know,” the boy sighed. “I don’t know if... if I want to.”
The therapist paused, trying to sort out the thoughts flowing through his mind. “Jarek, this is a very serious matter, even if it is curable. I’m going to ask you to try to keep your feelings under control for the time being. Return to me tomorrow. I can make this pain stop.”
Jarek stood, but kept his eyes on the ground. “Fine.”
“One more thing. The girl, what is her name?”
The boy bit his lip, and the therapist noticed as he said her name, a tiny smile crept across his lips. “Poppy. Poppy Samuels.”
It was strange how the therapist had been hoping Jarek wouldn’t tell him the name of this girl. But he still did his duty and scrawled the name down. “Very well. You may go home now, Jarek.”
The boy left, but the therapist remained in his chair, clutching his clipboard. He hadn’t seen a case of stirrings such as these in so long. How could he handle them? He knew what to do with people who felt pain, rage, jealousy, guilt, hope, irritation. He had no problem giving out the Pill to make those things go away. But a feeling as strong as Jarek’s hadn’t been a problem in decades.
The therapist stood and left his cold office. He walked through the silent hallways of the now empty school and to the principal’s office, knowing he must report the situation. His temple throbbed, as it often did when he’d forgotten to take the Pill in the mornings, and he knew that meeting with the principal wouldn’t help.
The principal opened the door before the therapist was able to knock. As usual, her expression was even icier than her office. “Hello again, Doctor Gold.”
“I’m afraid I have another case, Principal Smith.”
“What is the situation this time?” Smith snapped.
“Nothing serious. Two young adults are showing signs of very strong...feelings,” the therapist murmured. He knew he was doing the right thing, but it felt so very wrong to report these children. “I’m dealing with one, but perhaps you should get Poppy Samuels examined by a therapist.”
“She will be treated right away. What kind of stirrings are they exhibiting?”
The therapist had an intense urge to lie to this cold-hearted woman. Tell her they were fighting, or irritated with each other, but he knew that a lie like that was punishable by death.
“Love,” he whispered, and the word felt like acid in his mouth.
“You’re sure?” she asked. “This is not simply an early case of urges?”
The therapist shook his head. “I’m sure.”
Smith’s nostrils flared. “I will deal with this immediately. Before it gets out of hand. Thank you for informing me, Doctor Gold.”
“You’re welcome,” he said, but didn’t mean it.
As the therapist was leaving, Smith called after him, “Don’t forget to take your medication. You may go home now.”
After gathering his things, the therapist walked home through the silent city. His head was ringing, showing him things he didn’t want to think about. One memory in particular, ringing crystal clear in his head.
“Gold?” she giggled. “Even your name is precious, Zar.”
“No,” the therapist murmured, but it kept coming.
The young boy’s confession: Because I wanted to kiss her.
You’re giving me the Pill to make it go away?
What if I don’t want to?
“Your name?” The front door of his house demanded, interrupting his internal battle.
“Balthazar Gold.” He heard the familiar click of the lock and the door slid open for him. Inside, the therapist did as he’d done for the last forty years. He opened the cap to a little bottle of blue pills, shook one into his hand. He dumped it down his throat and swallowed it in one dry gulp. As always, he hoped they would work, but of course they wouldn’t. They hadn’t for forty years.
“They’re such a pretty color...” The memory of her voice cut into his brain. He tried to fight it. The boy Jarek had brought this on. He must have.
“Balthazar is such a mouthful. I think I’ll call you Zar.”
“No!” Roared the therapist. “Please.”
And then it wasn’t just her voice he heard. He could see her, now. He could recall her face, always with a welcoming smile. Her round eyes, the color of the ocean, and long hair that flowed down her back.
“Don’t you know how much I love you?”
The therapist closed his eyes. He could see his face now, too. No wrinkles, and his head full of the curly hair he had when he was only sixteen or so. And his young voice, full of cracks.
“I’m Balthazar Gold.”
“I haven’t seen you at school before.”
“Well, I don’t think you were looking.” Her ringing laugh, like the tinkling of bells.
“No, I suppose not. I am now, though.”
Two little words scraped through the therapist’s throat as he crumpled slowly to his knees, his mind swirling into infinite circles. “Not again.” But then the door in his mind opened, and he was back to his teenage years, when the sunshine was still only warming and not scorching. When children played outside, and people kissed and fought, cried and loved. When Dahlia Montrose came into his life.
She had made his heartbeat pick up and his stomach become fluttery, just as Jarek had said about the girl in his class. It was before the Red War, and the Pill was created, and before the city walls became miles high.
“I didn’t know feelings like this existed.”
“Me either. I’ve never been so happy. I love you.”
“I love you too, Zar.”
He wondered where all these memories had gone. It was like they had been buried. The therapist understood then what it meant to be old, not because of his age, but because he’d seen things. He’d seen so many changes throughout his life, yet he’d never made one. None for the better, at least.
“Do you think we could stop this war? Do you think we could make a change?”
“It takes more than just two kids to change the world, Dahl.”
“Even a little change is change though, isn’t it?”
“My brother’s going off to fight in the war, Zar. I’m so scared.”
“He’ll come back. I promise, he’ll come back.”
“Hey, how are you? It’s been months.”
“I don’t think your brother would want you to be living in misery, mourning his death. It’s okay to smile, you know.”
“Just leave me alone, Zar.”
“I don’t like watching you in pain.”
“Then maybe you shouldn’t be watching at all!”
The therapist’s hands shook, and he wept brokenly, feeling pain at its worst. He imagined how it would be to have a body that didn’t resist the Pills, like everyone else in the city. Cured of everything by just one little pill.
“Dahlia, I got you this.”
“What is it?”
“It’s a new type of medication. It’s supposed to... to relieve the pain.”
“Just make it go away?”
“You’ll be happier. Almost everyone in the state is taking them now.”
She unscrewed the lid of the small container and shook two blue Pills into the palm of her hand. “They’re such a pretty color... Do you take them?”
“No. The only pain I feel is watching you hurt.”
“I don’t know, Zar... Pills?”
“Please. I’m tired of seeing you cry.”
How alone the therapist felt. He craved the ignorance of the Pill. Love was so unusual and rare between people, even if they weren’t medicated. He felt like the only man alive feeling this way.
“Dahlia, why don’t you talk to me anymore?”
“Talk to you about what?”
“Anything? You’ve changed. Maybe those Pills were a bad idea. I’m sorry I got them for you.”
“Don’t be sorry.”
“But I don’t want to see you anymore.”
“I’m no longer sad. I feel fine. But Zar, I really don’t feel anything towards you anymore... I think the death of my brother made me grow up. And we were being silly children. Times have changed.”
“But Dahl, this isn’t...”
“I’ve changed, Balthazar.”
“But... change back! Please. I love you and--”
“That’s enough. Goodbye, Zar.”
Feeling the weight of the therapist’s entire body collapsed on its pressure-sensitive floor, the voice from inside the walls of the house droned, “Sir, are you in need of assistance?”
“No,” The therapist whispered. Slowly, he straightened, the pain and joy of the
memories ebbing. With Dahlia’s voice still in his ears, he thought of Jarek, of Balthazar Gold as a sixteen year old boy, then turned, and walked into his bedroom, where he laid until sleep finally took him over.
He dreamt of the Red War that night. The war that would always be remembered as the battle where a billion men fell. Where the blood of innocents’ washed the city streets of their purity in every corner of the world. When life as everyone in the world knew it was obliterated. “We’d always known man would destroy itself,” some would say, grimmly and hopelessly, because it was the war that was never won. Everyone lost, and separated into cities a hundred miles from each other, to be sure that no such war would ever happen again. And to deal with the pain: the beautiful blue pills that took it all away, and made certain that this city would not be the cause of more violence. They took Dahlia away. They would take away what made Jarek different.
“Sir, it is time to awake,” the house squawked in the morning.
The therapist woke covered in a cold sweat and the feeling of a rock in his stomach. He knew what must be done. As he took the Pill that morning, he felt it stick in his throat. Oh, how he wanted it to work. He needed to take away this pain, this fear.
Principal Smith caught him before he could make if from the school doors to his office.
“Doctor Gold,” she said, her voice sharp. “I assume you are planning to take care of the situation you spoke of yesterday? Poppy Samuels was given the Pill last night.”
“Uh, yes...” The therapist’s throat swelled. “Are you sure you wish to eliminate this... this...”
“Abomination?” Smith filled in. “Quite sure, yes. I do not want to risk another Red War, and neither does Mayor Peters. Allow me to remind you, Doctor Gold, that not taking a Pill, as well as such a strong emotion, is punishable by execution.”
Smith glared at him with such ferocious coldness that the therapist began to shy away. “Good,” she said finally. “Because if there is one thing I will not risk, it is the peace and order of this community, particularly in children.”
“Yes, ma’am. I understand.”
“Good.” Smith repeated, then turned and began walking away. Over her shoulder she called, “Make the right decision, Doctor Gold. For the good of us all.”
The therapist nodded quickly, then walked swiftly to his office. It felt chillier than usual this morning. He sat in his hard chair, staring and Jarek’s records with his face in his hands.
There was a soft knock on the door, and then as if summoned, Jarek was in the office. “Good morning, Doctor.”
“Have a seat, please, Jarek.”
The boy sat down, his eyes wide, hands knotted together in his lap. “Poppy isn’t Poppy anymore.”
“She was given the Pill.”
“She doesn’t smile at me anymore. Not like how she used to. She doesn’t do anything.”
“She’s cured now, Jarek. And you will be too.” The words felt so wrong in his mouth.
The boy suddenly leapt to his feet. “Please don’t make me take it! Please!”
“I can make this pain go away though, Jarek. Isn’t that a good thing?” The therapist asked, searching for a way to justify his actions.
“I want to feel it! Even this is better than nothing!” he cried, collapsing into the chair. “Why must you take that away? I’m just one kid! One kid isn’t going to make a difference!”
“Even a little change is a change, Jarek!” Dahlia’s words flung themselves out of the therapist’s mouth before he could catch them. He stared up at the boy’s bewildered face. “You. Are. A change.”
“I know! I know I am! I--”
The therapist lept forward, so that he was directly in front of the boy. “You are the change. You have to make it different.”
“You said this was a disease, a bad thing!”
“The Pill will cut off all your rage, your pain, jealousy, guilt, and despair. It will also clog your hope, courage, excitement, pity, and love.”
“Do you take the Pill, Doctor Gold?”
“I do,” the therapist said. “But it doesn’t work on me.”
“So you feel? You feel what I feel?”
At this, Jarek’s mouth dropped open. The therapist continued, “You can’t take the Pill, Jarek. You can’t risk losing yourself. I understand that now.”
“But you just said... you’ll die, won’t you?” Jarek’s eyes were wide.
“That doesn’t matter. Do you know where the city walls are?” the therapist demanded.
“Of course I do, but I won’t last long outside of them!” the boy exclaimed.
“No! The teachers say that the air outside the city is toxic and hot, and there is no food.”
“But lying is punishable by death--”
“Jarek, listen to me. We are not the only city. There are others. Others that do not have Pills. But they do not know we exist. And yes the air is hot, but it is not toxic. You will survive. You have to find the other cities.”
“How do you know all this?” Jarek asked.
“Because life didn’t used to be like this,” said the therapist. “We are not the only city that survived the Red War.”
“Why do they lie?” the boy whispered.
“The same reason why if I do not make you take the Pill, they will take me away.”
“Can’t you just give me a Pill then? I could resist it just like you do!”
“The addiction is too strong to risk that. You have to leave. You have to go, Jarek.”
“How am I supposed to just go? Leave Poppy, leave my family, my friends, my home?”
That stopped the therapist short. “Would you rather stay here, take the Pill, feel nothing, but be in your safety zone?”
“I... I don’t know. I have to think about this, Doctor Gold.”
“You don’t have long.”
The boy looked up, then squared his shoulders. “I need to think.”
The therapist nodded. “You must decide by tonight, or else Principal Smith will catch on. Meet me in front of the school at dusk, if you decide to leave. If not, visit me tomorrow. You absolutely must not show any signs of stirrings, do you understand?”
* * *
The therapist waited outside of the tall, gated school as the boiling sun sank beneath the city walls. Approximately half an hour ago, Principal Smith had gotten into her shiny silver automobile and zoomed away. Even though he was sure she was no longer there, the thought of her steely eyes and razor voice made the therapist’s palms sweat.
The night darkened, and the clock that shined in the sky read far past curfew. The city was silent and hot, but the therapist felt chilled. In the quietness, his mind wandered, to the day he received the letter that Dahlia had killed herself, only a couple years after she began taking the Pill, and Balthazar Gold had not understood. The Pill took away pain--how could it cause suicide?
The therapist heard the soft pitter patter of feet on cement before he could see the boy, and his stomach dropped. He wasn’t sure if he’d been hoping Jarek would come, or had been secretly praying he wouldn’t. But he was there, jacket on, pack strapped onto his shoulders, his cheeks flushed.
“Do you have a water purifier? And food?” The therapist whispered as they began hurrying to the wall.
The boy nodded. “I... I don’t know what to do, though. Where do I go?”
“West. There is a city far west, near the ocean.”
“The ocean?” His mouth dropped. “I saw a picture of the ocean once! In an old book, before my teacher through it out! Is it really as big as they say?”
“Yes,” the therapist said. “And bluer than any picture you have ever seen.”
“And they don’t have a Pill?”
“No, but they have other problems there, as well. But you will not have to hide your feelings.”
Jarek nodded, then looked directly at him. “Now for the worst of it. How do I get out?”
The therapist pointed to a tall tower in the center of the wall. “Do you see it? The blinking red light at the bottom? It’s very tiny.”
“Yes,” said the boy.
“That’s the door,” the therapist said. “The only one in the entire city.”
“And we have to go... through the door?”
“Well you can’t climb over it!”
“How then? How will I just waltz through the door?”
They reached the wall, where there only a few guards, maybe ten, but there were only three directly by the door. The other seven were at least a hundred yards away. They stood in their black gear with their guns swung over their shoulders, looking bored. The therapist and Jarek crouched behind one of their automobiles, staring at the red flashing light above the mouth that lead to the outside world. The door itself was only a little bit wider than two of the silver automobiles side-by-side, but it was very tall.
The therapist suddenly got an idea. “They have keys. A card that they keep at their belt. If I can get them to open it, perhaps I will be able to sneak you outside. Or take the key and open it later.I don’t know if it will work, Jarek, but it’s your best shot.”
Jarek understood. He crept deeper into the shadows as the therapist began walking, then running toward the men with guns.
“Help!” he cried. “You must find him!”
“What’s the problem, sir?” one of the guards asked dully.
“My son! He escaped! He’s outside the wall! Please you must find him! He will perish!”
“No one has left this city,” the guard said. “You should continue your search for him around the city when the sun has risen.”
“He snuck out earlier today. Please!” the therapist begged. “Just take a moment to see if he is out there. He couldn’t have gotten far!”
“Sir, I must protest. You--”
“Please!” he yelled. Finally, the guard nodded. He took out a card at his belt and swiped it across the a small pad. The door slid open and the therapist stared wide-eyed at the immense grove of trees that immediately started at the gate.
“You think he’s somewhere out there?” the guard asked, skeptical.
The therapist nodded slowly. “Yes... I’m sure he is...”
“Very well, then. Please wait here, sir, while we take a look.”
“Thank you,” the therapist said. As soon as the three men were through the door, Jarek slithered among the shadows to the therapist’s side. He hid behind him, so that the other soldiers would not catch a glimpse of him, and peered into the forest.
“Quickly, we need to move,” the therapist said. He began to go through the door, he just needed to get Jarek under the cover of the trees and--
“Hey, is that him?” One of the soldiers said, coming up beside him out of nowhere.
The therapist’s heart stopped. He only had about half a second to panic before he acted. The soldier still had his undrawn gun resting in an easily accessible sling on his shoulder, and without thinking, the therapist had snatched it away into his own hands, and the handle of the gun collided with the soldier’s face.
“Hey! You--” One more swing into his temple and the man dropped. But the others were coming. The therapist heard them.
He thrust the gun into the young boy’s hands. “Jarek, you must run. Follow the setting sun into the west. Only come back when you have an army. Save them. Everyone you love. You must save them all.”
“What if I don’t make it? What if I die?!” the boy panicked.
“Stay close to streams and rivers. You will survive, you have to,” the therapist said. “Now go! I will lead them away!”
Jarek nodded, the gun clutched close to his chest, and took off into the forest. The therapist watched for only a second, before he ran the other way, screaming and yelling.
He couldn’t clearly remember them taking him down, dragging him away to a small room. Too quickly he could see daylight streaming through a tiny window at the very top of one of the walls in his cell. He knew it would not be long now, he just prayed that Jarek had escaped.
He could hear them, twelve footsteps, maybe more. And then the principal’s sharp voice cut into the stale air of his cell.
“Yes, that’s him,” she said. “The difference. I assume he and the Jarek boy situation are connected. Go on, he won’t fight you.”
This is it, he thought to himself, and the door burst open. So many soldiers, all with guns pointed at him, and Smith standing there, eyes penetrating.
“What happened to the boy, Doctor Gold?” she asked. One of the soldiers kicked him hard in the side.
The therapist whimpered, but said nothing. This meant Jarek had gotten away. He felt something inside of him then, something he hadn’t felt in his entire life: hope.
“I will ask you one more time, Doctor Gold. And then I will have you killed right here. Where. Is. The. Boy.”
“He’s gone,” Balthazar Gold said with a genuine smile, staring at the cold woman. “He will change things.”
“You are a fool if you think one small child will bring a strong community like this one down.”
“One small difference is still a difference,” he replied.
Smith snapped her fingers, and the barrel of one of the soldiers’ guns was brought to Balthazar Gold’s temple. Slowly, the old man closed his eyes, and he felt her there with him, the heart-faced beauty from his youth. He felt Dahlia in the pure love and courage he felt at the moment. And then the soldier’s gun fired into his temple and Balthazar Gold fell to the cold ground of the cell, dead.
Two Days later
Smith sat across from Mayor Peters with her hands knotted in her lap.
“Principal Smith, this is exactly the kind of disaster that you were supposed to eliminate at any cost,” the mayor said. “Because you have failed at retrieving the child, the entire population is at stake. Do you understand me?”
“Yes, Sir, I do,” Smith whispered. “I tried my best, but there was a traitor teacher who helped the boy escape.”
“Yes I’m aware. That is another failure on your part, Miss Smith. Because where is Doctor Gold now?”
Smith’s lips were quaking so much that all she could whisper was a single broken word.
“What’s that?” The mayor demanded.
Smith cleared her throat. “Dead, sir.”
“That is correct.” The big man sat back in his chair, his snake-like eyes burning tiny holes in Smith’s pale skin.. “More and more situations of these young children feeling such strong emotions are popping up all over the city. Soon there will be more that will refuse to take the Pill than we can risk executing. The Jarek boy has given those who can still feel something that will end up creating a war so large the human race will be obliterated. This city will no longer be under control. There will be chaos, just because of this one thing.”
“What’s that?” Smith whispered.
“Courage,” Mayor Peters said. “They feel strong, because they have a taste of freedom.”