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Author's note: Have you never personally wondered what the future would be like?
Street noise all around me. I quietly walk the streets, black cloak, grime covered feet, soot circling my young face. Hunger always gnawed at my stomach, I had a hollow appetite. There was always an edge of irritation which tickled the back of my mind. I tell myself to ignore it and continue along the cobblestone pathway. I kept my soft olive skin and my fair, honey-brown hair tucked away under my hood, away from wandering eyes.
I kept a keen green eye on the merchants around me. My father was a merchant, he sold apples. We grew them behind our house. Sweet, burst in your mouth flavor that danced with your tongue and made your head reel.
We got a lot of money and spent a lot of money. Renting a stall to sell our apples and keeping the house up. After all, living under an unofficial dictatorship is expensive. Things have also changed. For example, school is outlawed, there are currently five planets (who knows what happened to the other three) and we had over 174 presidents; a majority of them women. Cancer has been cured global warming was face and we now have three moons.
I live in a small village off the coast of Any-thing. Or what used to be called Maryland in what used to be called America. Clearly, the human brain has gotten stupid and no one comes up with “creative” and “unique” names anymore. Heck, those two wards aren’t even in the dictionary!
Everything is simple yet very complicated. I detest it. Everyone suffers, people over in No-thing to the south of us and people over in Every-thing to the north; to the east is the Any-one Ocean and to the west is the capitol, Every-body. And that’s it. We’re the last ones to survive. The prehistoric continents Asia, Europe, Africa, Antarctica, Australia, and South America are all demolished, gone, destroyed. The population is low and ever so slowly growing, inching its way to the brink again.
Nobody got their way around here. You do what Every-body says and you thank them. No refusals, no questions, no “but”s.
Suddenly, someone shouting my name from behind draws by focus back to the real world, “Envelope!” – male voice – “Envy, wait up!”
Yeah, my name is Envelope. So, what?
Quickly I turn, throw off my hood and shout at my follower, “Olive, shut it!” As he reaches me, he doubles over, panting.
Olive was my brother, older brother. He is seventeen, I’m fourteen. He’s eloped to Carriage, but it was not an arranged marriage. Everyone must marry at eighteen, and the capitol means everyone. Some marriages don’t work out, like my parent’s. My mom murdered my father, got her gingers torn off and now sits in the house, telling Olive and I what to do.
“Mom… says…” he said, finally catching his breath a bit.
“’Mom says, mom says’.” I snap. Huffing, I duck under my worn hood and start walking in the general direction I was before.
Olive must have caught his breath quickly because he grabbed my shoulder, spinning me around. “Envy, mom says you’re in trouble. Forest asked for you.”
“Forest,” I breathe. I haven’t heard that name in a while. We were best friends. Mom mother believes he only wants me for my looks and despises him for it, but he’s truly a great guy.
Olive pulls my hood down and hisses in my ear with a mischievous glint in his own green eyes, “Stop roaming around like a street rat. It brings in drunken men.” Giving me a devishly secretive grin, I had to admit that my brother was pretty good looking. His once cropped hair started to slightly hang above his eyes, against his own olive skin. His hair is a dark, dark brown. Not a light honey-brown like my own. He is tall, has shining pearly whites and has this overall sexy quality about him. No wonder Carriage was hopelessly happy. However, my brother says I’m pretty, the way my hair curls at the ends and shimmers in the flames of the evening sun, but I don’t believe him.
Forest is the only guy friend I had. He is tall, but more lean that stocky; Olive is stocky. He has light, ivory skin but the same dark hair my brother has. He also has dark eyes that always seem to sparkle at me. He’s sixteen.
We met on a cold, crisp spring morning. The type of day you want to sleep in to the warm afternoons where the cool breezes prickle your skin. But of course, I was awake. I was seven so he was nine. I was going to get a simple bucket of water, skipping along in my little red cotton dress my dad had just bought for me. Reaching the well, I stared down into the black stone hole. I placed the bucket down as wonder overtook my thoughts. I leaned over as far as I could, trying to figure out how far down the yawning well went. Suddenly, my right palm slipped and I fell head first into the black water.
The icy feeling struck me and pulled the air from my lungs. I was scrambling to get to the top. Luckily, I broke the surface and took in a huge gulp of air before screaming in fright. I was treading water quite helplessly for my hands and feet wouldn’t cooperate. The hole at the top of the well seemed a million miles away and, frantic as my young mind was, I was thinking up silly ways I could die in here. Then, out of nowhere, a little boy stuck his head in the well, shouting down, “Need help?”
I tried to shout back at him but I went under again. This must have sent an alarm through him because he quickly threw down one end of a thick rope. When my head popped above water level, I saw the rope. Tried onto the end was my bucket. I could hear curt shouts from above now and I restlessly grasped the bucked, gasping silently. They slowly started to pull me up. My hair was plastered to my neck as my dress was to my skin. Vexed as I was, I said nothing.
When they finally hauled me to the stone edge, two men grabbed me and rushed me to the nearest infirmary. I must have swallowed a lot of water because my stomach was churning like no tomorrow.
I awoke in a bed that day, my head feeling heavy and my breath shaky. The first thing I saw was the young boy, his eyes wide with worry. When he saw I was awake, his straight face broke out into a grin and he quickly said, “My name’s Forest, I helped you today.”
Forest has always been very eager, always pushing me to do things.
“You can thank me now,” he says with a smile dancing across his rosy cheeks.
I felt like I couldn’t talk but I choked out a small “thanks” before returning the smile. Sitting in the chair next to me bed, rambling on and on he went. He was the talkative type, too.
Sighing, I nod to Olive and hand him a paper with a few printed words on it, “Grocery list.”
“I can’t, I have to pick up wood.”
Shrugging, I snatch the paper back from him, stuff it in my cloak and whirl around to walk to our house on the other side of the village. Olive called behind me, “Good luck!”
I quietly dismissed this, a million thoughts of Forest dashing through my mind. When I reached my home, it looked small and quaint. Alone. Abandoned. It always did. Shoving the light wooden door in, I threw my cloak on a nearby wood chair, exposing my tunic and slim pants. Looking up, there he was, Forest.
We silently stood there, looking at each other for the longest time. Then he rushed forwards towards me, scooping me up in his arms and twirling me around until I felt sick. When he saw my disgusted expression, he put me down and hugged me, “Oh, Envy, it’s been forever!”
I know that, I’m not stupid, I wanted to tell him. Instead, I smiled and nodded. Suddenly, he grabbed my hand in his warm one and pulled me out into the cold, crisp fall air.
I was thinking about what Mom would say but she probably isn’t around at the moment. “Forest,” I say, “where are we going?” A small ghost smile started to creep its way onto my face.
“Oh, nowhere,” he replies slyly, a smirk playing across his own lips.
I knew this meant somewhere but where? I have no idea. I let him drag me there anyway because I can’t seem to move my own legs at the speed he can. A heartbeat later, he grabs me by my waist and sits me down again. I’m sitting on the edge of the well.
“The well?” I question, my voice unsure.
“Yes, the well,” he says, hoisting himself up to sit next to me. Putting his arm around me, I give him a look like he’s crazy. He’s never done anything like this before.
“Forest, we haven’t seen each other in a while,” I start. I let him keep his arm draped across my shoulders, though, inviting his heat to me.
“I know, I want to hear all about you.” He doesn’t want to talk? “I’m all ears.”
“Um…” I say, shrugging his arm off with ease. Jumping down, I land wrong and fall forward, my palm scraping on the stone underneath me. I felt no pain. What the…? I thought. When I stood and turned around, Forest wasn’t there. Instead, there crashed powerful waves against rough sand. The sky was dark and huge. Purple storm clouds were billowing, their winds circulating my hair around.
I was dead confused. I was really starting to suspect something when a giant wave toppled me over and sucked me out to sea. The water felt like air. Nothing.
Even though I was being thrown about like a rag doll, the treacherous water didn’t have any effect on me. Surely, I’ve gone mad. Perhaps this was an illusion of some sort.
All of a sudden, I heard someone call my name. Their voice was loud with panic.
Then, I jolted awake.
It was all a dream….
I looked around my room. Standing next to me was Olive. I sat up and hugged my knees to my chest, “I had another dream,” I breathed.
“Placing a hand on my shoulder, he gave me a look of puzzlement. “Another dream?” he asked.
Had I not told him about these dreams? About Forest and the well? I thought to myself. Giving my shoulder a squeeze, he muttered something like “sorry” then said that supper will be ready in an hour. Standing quickly, he left and shut the door without another word.
“Supper?” I must have slept the whole day away. I swung my legs around so I could sit on the side of the bed. I pressed the back of my hand to my forehead. It felt cool and smooth.
I stood and stretched before quietly making my way down stairs. My mom gave me an ugly look and told me I better act good. As I sat down at the large, wooden table, I drummed my fingers on it, drilling the sound into the unsteady silence.
I drifted off into my own thoughts, although most of them concerned Forest. Now that I think about it, I truly do miss him. All I remember of him was his preposterous yet humorous ways. How he always talked and was always bantering nonstop. I don’t believe I took him seriously ninety percent of the time. The audible thump of a bowl in front of my shot me back to current time.
I looked down at whatever pile of junk Olive concocted, forcing a smile. “What is it?” I say, raising my eyebrows at the thick gloop.
“I just mashed together a bunch of fish,” he replies steadily.
Oh, dear Lord, I pray, I hope he cooked them. He gave me a frivolous grin as I prod at it. Sighing, I quickly snap, “It looks disgusting, revolting even.”
When I look back up, his smile had fallen straight from his face. Instead stood a suitable scowl. He snatched the bowl back and dumped it in the trash bucket. “That’s your opinion,” I hear him say under his breath.
This makes me smile.
“Sorry, Ollie. I’ll just get some broth from Mae’s.”
Mae was the cheapest but most well-rounded chef in our village. I don’t know about Any-thing but she’s pretty darn enjoyable.
As I make my way into her store, I can see it’s congested with angry men and people glutting themselves helplessly. As I reach a table back in the corner near a group of drunk women, Mae catches my eye. She waves at me and holds up one finger as to say “hold on a minute.” She continues to yell at some fairly filthy teenage boys.
I quietly whistle to myself until I feel something hard and cold slam into the back of my head. Then it’s only darkness.
“No, I’m only offering seven.”
“Seven gold ones and that’s final!”
Seven gold ones? Why seven? That’s a lot of money, let me tell you. My family barely owns half of that.
I was vaguely awake, my eyes wouldn’t open. I just heard fuzzy voices bounce around inside my hallow mind. I couldn’t think straight, I couldn’t figure out what to do or where I am. Just those voices. At first, there were only two male voices, deep and gruff. But now a choir of younger, male voices join the mix, making my head spin in confusion. What? I try to think, where am I?
The effort causes blood to pound in my ears. I blackout again.
When I sat bolt upright, my hands flew to my head. My fingers quickly started to twirl themselves in my hair, winding strands in between and around. Then, involuntarily, they started tugging. Alarming pain shot through my head but it was reassuring to know I didn’t have to have that dream again.
As the pain refused to stop, I realized what I was doing. I was hurting myself so I could feel the pain, actually, instead of feeling it churning inside my chest. But I couldn’t stop. My eyes were shut tight and I had no idea where I was but this pain, it kept coming. It hurt so good and I wanted it to never preclude.
Suddenly, someone grabbed me, forcing my hands away from my head. They placed me stomach down on whatever this floor or ground was, holding my hands behind my back. They were incredibly strong so I assumed it was a male.
“What are you doing, you worthless –” he cut himself short there with his upbraid. It was a male voice, I was right.
I tried to respond but he pressed my head against the ground again. It was wood, that’s all I could compute. My eyes stung with tears from the pain.
“You do not hurt yourself, you hear me?” he hissed in my ear. His breath was foul and smelled of alcohol.
Is he drunk? I wondered. I replied with a small, choked out, “yes, sir.”
He pulled me off my feet and I got an eyeful of the room I was in. Two windows, clean cut and perfect, both showing signs of dawn break. Black, silhouetted trees gleamed on the horizon. The room was small, one doorway leading off into another room. The only thing in the room was a pile of rope, him and me. The rope’s coiled, innocent figure made my heart thump in horror. What does he use that for? I thought.
“Alright, girl,” he started. He was tall, he had a clean face, and he honestly was wealthy-looking. “Envelope is too hard of a name for me to remember.” How he knew my name, I had no clue but the more time I spent staring at this creep, the more I grew suspicious.
“You look scared,” he said. I nodded, slightly. He didn’t seem at all drunk, now. He seemed sophisticated.
What a bipolar guy.
“Welcome to The Program, Envelope.” He offered his hand.
Gingerly, I shook it. “You aren’t changing my name?” I questioned quietly.
“No, it’s too unique.” He gave me a smile.
“I have some questions…” I trailed off, my eyes darting around the room nervously. Why do I keep talking?
“Ask away, I have some as well.”
“The Program. What program?”
“The Program is a proper noun, sweetie.”
“Fine. The Prooooogram.” I draw out the “o” in program. “What is it?”
“Well?” I ask.
“Figure it out,” he replies.
“TPM?” I say quietly.
“That stands for the
“I figured,” I retort.
“Tah-da,” he gives me a smirk.
“Oh, no…” I realized what he did. TPM is a group of the most high-tech scientists who do crazy tests on teenagers. Secretly. And every five years they broadcast the experiment that year to the world. Then the world, yes the world (and keep in mind that when I say “the world” I just mean our four little provinces), votes on what we should do. Fight together, survive in the wilderness, fight against each other, stuff like that.
“So… your questions?” I ask, shifting slightly from foot to foot.
“No, just independent.”
“I like you, Envelope.”
“Envy,” I smile.
“Envy,” he returns the smile.
After a quiet, tinder moment, he becomes serious again. “This year we’ll be fusing animal DNA with your own DNA. So you’ll be half-animal, half-human.”
“But there’s a catch, right?” I twiddle my thumbs.
“Yes. The animals aren’t your normal, everyday mythical creatures. No half-horses or half-goats. Animals like foxes, snakes, wolves, turtles.”
“Oh, geez,” I whisper to myself.
“And this year will be our 15th year.”
So this was it, I was going to die. I die a science experiment, a toy. I had no experience in stuff like this. The world usually voted a brutal fight to the death. I can’t fight, I can’t do anything. I pretend to be tough but I’m not really. No one can escape TPM, no one ever has. I don’t believe anyone’s even tried.
They treat us like circus animals here in the Hold. Each person, there’s sixteen people in all, four from each province, has their own little “room” or whatever you want to call it. It consists of a bed, a chair, bathroom and a rug. The walls in between each box are waist high so people can talk. But the front is barred so it gives it a jail vibe. I’ve made a few friends.
Some look familiar although the head Program Aid, the guy from before, changes names often. For example, he changed Sandwich’s name to San. Everyone calls him that now thanks to that Program Aid.
The Hold is just a long hallway. On the right are eight female boxes and on the left are eight male boxes. To the right of me is Lavender. She’s around twelve; she’s extremely young and frightened. To my left is Flat. Flat is that one person everyone loves. No matter how annoying she can be, all the boys drool over her and all the girls follow her like puppy dogs.
Across from me is a quiet boy who looks scarily familiar. His name is Willow. It seems like the most girly name you could give a guy. He doesn’t want to be anything else. Just Willow.
The experiment is to take place in a few days. We’ve been here for about three days, all of us. A nervous chatter of the fusing rippled through us. Everyone was excited, scared, nauseated, and homesick; we were all one big mess. We spent most of our day asking each other what animal DNA we wanted to be fused with. Lavender and I were having a nice conversation about this.
“You look like a song bird,” I tell her with a small smile and a tilt of the head. I had climbed over into her box because no Program Aids were pacing the hallway. They give us an hour or two like this with our barred doors unlocked. Lavender and I were leaning against her bed, talking about the fuse.
“How can you be half-bird? Have wings? A beak? Bird feet?” she replied, furrowing her brow.
“Well, I really don’t know. I guess you would took weird as a half-bird.”
“I see you as a fox,” she says quickly, her face reddening.
“A fox?” I laugh.
San, one of the older boys, he’s around seventeen, comes rushing in, takes one look at us, and hops over unto my box then into Flat’s. Flat must have locked him out or something along those lines. Lavender and I exchange glances before continuing our nice conversation.
“Yeah, a fox,” she grins. Lavender has such a nice smile, she’s so young and naïve.
“I don’t think I’d like a tail,” I shake my head grimly.
“Everything has a tail!” She playfully elbows me in the side.
“We don’t even know what they’re specifically offering, yet,” I counter, giving her a smug grin.
She giggles and rolls her eyes. “Whatever!”
Someone shouts from a few rooms down, “Program Aids are coming!” Then it’s all a big rush to get back to your box. I tell Lavender I’d talk to her later, hopping over my wall and into my room. I grope under my bed for a book they gave me about different types if animals and hastily sprawl out on my bed, digging my nose into the book.
All is quiet except the gentle clock and distant footsteps. Everyone was walking around hesitantly, whispering to each other in hushed voices. Then Toad, the head Program Aid I’ve mentioned, burst through the door, grabbed some boy then stormed out.
We all sat there in silence after that. Flat’s eyes narrowed. I guessed she knew him; maybe they both come from the same province. Whatever it was, something was wrong. The Program Aids were angry for whatever reason. Whatever.
Our cells were still unlocked and we slowly, ever so slowly, opened them and met in a giant circle in the center of the white hallway. We stood in silence, staring at each other, our eyes filled with a mixture of horror and confusion.
What were we to do? Break out into song?
Finally, Lavender said something so quiet none of us knew what she was saying. Her eyes were glued to the floor.
“Lavender, pardon?” I say, urging her to speak louder.
“It’s a one way ticket out of here,” she said a bit louder. She could tell no one knew what she was talking about. “My sister was also chosen for TPM. And she was released, unscathed. That year they were testing chewing gum that would supposedly make you fly. That was the tenth year.
“My sister was only twelve but she was the most shy person you’d ever meet. So when they started broadcasting, showing all the TPM guinea pigs, my mom freaked when she saw her daughter was part of it. So she gave a sacrifice to the current Main Rule and the Main Rule slipped her a red envelope to send here to free her child.”
When she was finished, we all stood in silence.
“Wag is gone?” Flat whispered.
“I’m guessing,” someone else said.
An envelope? I thought. My name is Envelope. I frowned at the connection.
“So we’re down to fifteen?” I mutter.
“The challenge at the end will be easier,” Willow quietly piped in.
“Or harder,” Flat counters.
I shrug. “Well, the fuse is soon so we should just forget about this and –”
“Wag is gone!” Flat snaps, striking me across the face.
The solid noise that made seemed to echo in the room. It was completely silent, like the whole world slowed down. Sluggishly, I tumbled back, slumping across the smooth, pearly floor. My cheek stung from the blow and my temple knocked against the ground so it was throbbing painfully.
I swallowed, the world suddenly catching up with me. People were yelling and pointing at me and Flat was yelling back, her cheeks flushed in anger and embarrassment. The picture looked frightening as it spun and doubled in my mind. I felt dizzy, mostly because I slammed my crown into the hard tile.
Lavender rushed to my side, helping me to my feet. Willow stared at me with his head cocked slightly to the left. Toad and a few other Program Aids burst through the doors, shooting us with tranquilizer darts. People dropped like dead flies. Soon, we were all out cold.
I awoke, startled. I had black, distant dreams that taunted me in myriad ways. This time, Forest had nothing to do with them. They were haunting, devoid of my terror.
I tried to get up but was held back. As the room began to become clearer, I saw my arms, legs and chest were tethered to a flat, metal board. The room was now all chrome, shining and bold, instead of the bright, white color the Hold is. There was just one bright light from above, like a giant sun, which reflected off the chrome surfaces and gave the room a glowing feeling.
Looking around me, I saw tables, like mine, far away in the distance. I didn’t know what they were, at first, but when I faintly saw little things moving atop them, I gathered they were like me, strapped to a cold, hard board and probably struggling helplessly.
Toad suddenly appeared next to me, his face hard. “Envelope, we’re fusing now.”
“What?” I said, panic rose in my throat.
“You guys have become out of control and we’re fusing.”
A high pitched scream echoed off in the distance. It sounded like Lavender. My heart fluttered as Toad started sprinting off in that direction. I widened my eyes as they wheeled Lavender across the long laboratory, her withering in some sickening way. She let out another scream and I stared in horror.
Toad appeared next to me again. “Animal of choice?” He acted as if nothing had happened. I stared at him like he was mad. “Animal of choice?” he repeated a bit louder. He didn’t seem so friendly anymore. He seemed like the drunk aggressor I met first.
“Oh. Um…” I thought for a moment. I said the first thing that came to mind, “fox.”
I know earlier I had said I wanted nothing to do with foxes but Lavender did request I do it. And seeing that sight, her being violently rushed through this chrome death hole, her spasmatic actions causing her to jerk and twitch in unbearable ways, it sickened me to watch her go through such pain and it caused this little voice in the back of my head to whisper softly that she may never be coming back. At once I know I should be a fox because she wanted me to do it and it was my last good, decent conversation with her. So now we have fourteen people. Could anyone else have gotten an envelope to let them depart?
“Fox it is,” he said. He pushed my head down so I stared up at the blinding light above. The light seemed to engulf me, making whatever words he was saying come out as nonsense and gibberish. I could make out, however, that he was going to shoot something in my arm so he can get a steady feed on my DNA. I took a deep breath in through my nares. The shot, or whatever, punctured my skin.
Oh, did that hurt.
It started to make my arm feel hot as it bolted up and down through it, creating a flood of something warm and silky. It covered my entire arm and neither could I see nor raise my head to look at whatever just happened or was happening. I shut my eyes tight, wanting to cry out but I told myself no. So I held it in, feeling the pain build and build.
The pain abruptly ceased and all the blood rushed to my numb arm, making my head spin. My eyes were still closed and I breathed in slowly through my nose, wishing this was over soon. It didn’t seem like anything was happening, I tried to open my eyes but I couldn’t. It felt as if they were glued shut. Running my tongue across my teeth I found they felt normal. The fuse didn’t hurt as much as you think it would. At the beginning it hurt like no mercy but in the middle it felt soft and peaceful like lying in a spring pasture perfumed with the scent of orange trees in the calm afternoons.
I don’t know why but my thoughts drifted to Olive and my mom. Sad to say, I’m terribly homesick. I miss Ollie and his over protective brotherly qualities. I do miss my mother, unfortunately. I miss her always telling me what to do, saying she was going to whip me if I didn’t do it right. I knew she was tough, hard. But down under, I knew her love for me bubbled endlessly. It might not have been obvious to other people but to me it was crystal clear. She’d always say good night to me in her old, soft motherly voice. Then she tries to give me a smile.
When she was young, she was beautiful. She had the best smile around. The pictures she used to show me taught me how photogenic she was. I hear she was insanely nice, very caring. I guess I could believe it. I mean, there’s no saying she was mean all her life. Maybe something just got to her, messed up the wires in her mind. But what she did to my dad was not something to give plaudits for. I always try to imagines how she felt, killing some innocent person like that.
A subtle burst of pain drew me back into reality. I shut my eyes tight, letting out a hoarse yell. Laying on my back, I arched it upward, my fingers twitching uncontrollably. My legs tried to jerk around but they were held down so they just trembled with want. My head throbbed. I let out another yell then started to grind my teeth, banging my head repeatedly on the metal board.
My heart pounded and my wrists swiveled in their hold. I couldn’t hear anything, surprisingly. Possibly because I was throwing my head over and over against the flat surface of my board. I was jerking around yet my restraints held me still. Finally, someone pulled the thing out of my arm and I passed out.
When I awoke, the first thing that I could sense was the smell of grass. I was surrounded by it. Gross and flowers, wild flowers. Lavender. My sense of smell had increased majorly. I could also hear the strangest things. A snake curled up upon itself in a puddle of warm sunlight, for example. I could hear its steady breathing as it seeps the warmth from the sunlight into its fair scales.
As my eyes adjusted to the light, I could see I was in the middle of a meadow, a large meadow. In the distance, I could see a blue horizon and beyond that, the faint outline of purple mountains. Surrounding the meadow was a forest, a thin forest. The meadow I was in was dotted with waves of lavender, swaying in the gentle breeze, bowing down respectively. It was cool out and most likely late afternoon. The sky was a wish-washy blue and every now and then a pearly cloud would appear across the horizon.
I sat up. I felt different. My head felt heavy as I shook it gingerly. Looking down, I nearly screamed. My skin was the most pale skin I’ve ever seen. Little freckles were scattered across the smooth surface. I took a hard from my head, plucking it out quickly, and examined it. I stiffened. It was a golden red. A fiery red. A foxy red. My hair was red. Red. It was actually red. I nearly cried out. I didn’t understand any of these. Neither why my skin was pale nor why my hair was red.
I rose slowly, shifting my weight from foot to foot. When I reached up to feel my hair again, my hand bumped into something velvety soft. I realized I needed a mirror and the nearest thing I could think of that would resemble a mirror was the calm lake that was sleeping before the mountains. I took off in a sprint. I was quick, dashing through the meadow swiftly, the grasses barely rustling. I dodged trees and leapt over rocks with ease.
I skidded to a halt as the meadow started to become barren and rocky. Hazel spotted the area. A moor, I thought to myself in contemplation. The blue horizon still wavered in the distance. I didn’t want to cross the moor in case another person was waiting for me.
Bouncing from foot to foot, I looked around, my eyes darting from focus point to focus point. I had to think of a way to get to the water. There had to be a way around this, it can’t go on forever.
Leisurely, I started to skirt around the edge, not placing a single toe outside the meadow. It didn’t seem as if I was moving, rather the earth beneath my feet was rolling backwards. It was like an endless treadmill of rolling plains to my right and swaying meadows to my left. I sat, after a while, and glanced up at the sky, the yawning, escaping illusion of distant, spiraling sensations to notice that the sky had no sun. The light around me was clearly artificial and, as I now see, nothing has a shadow. The light didn’t change; everything was the same yellow tint. The darkest corners of the forest were glittering with yellow light; it was all disportionate. So wherever we were was fake, faux. I couldn’t believe it, everything seemed so real. The soft soil and the warm breeze.
I stood again, inhaling the warm sunlight, the fake sunlight. It gave me an eerie feeling knowing nothing was truly real. No photosynthesis, no respiration. It’s faux. It’s the future.
I’ve heard a lot of tales from years ago. The 21st century seemed very, very strange. Now that we’re in the 54th century, everything is different. The 21st century is exciting to learn about because the world had so many people on it, there were so many countries. And, if I can remember correctly, they had seven continents. Continents were these strange land masses which were groups of those countries. To my understanding, if I had lived in the 21st century, I would be living in North America in the country of the United States of America.
Where I live now, they have an old museum about the centuries 19 through 25. I always visit the 21st century area. My favorite sections are music and fashion. They wore the stupidest things in the early 2000s! The girls looked quite unattractive in these strange boots and these “denim jeans” although guys wore them, too. No one wears those, anymore. Once they found out denim causes this weird skin disease, they stopped manufacturing it. They have a sample in the museum you can feel if you clean your hands afterwards. The texture is spine tingling; it’s unnaturally soft yet still uncomfortable. I don’t know how they could spend days in those things.
Their hair varies. It’s mainly the same. What I don’t get are these strange two-plated “straighteners” girls used to “straighten” their hair. It’s entirely too ugly, curly hair is good! A lot of girls now-a-days are cutting their hair scarily short. I liked mine long but the stupid fuse cut it short.
The guy’s hair is a whole other story. A majority of the guys have this thing, as the museum calls it, called a “side sweep” or something. Apparently guys would sweep their hair to the right or left and they would flick their heads to get it in place. They looked like they were stupid or something. I’m surprised no one asked them if there was something wrong with their neck. I would have.
So I was thinking about where I am and why the plants and leaves and air are so different when it hits me.
I’m in the 21st century.
They didn’t actually send us back in time, I’m somewhere in the capitol, Every-body. But we’re in a dome and they made the world exactly like how it was 3300 years ago. It was hot; it was sticky. The air was so still but the grass still rustled endlessly. Could you eat any of the plants? Would they kill you if you swallowed their crisp energy? What kind of animals lived during this time? And why the 21st century? Was there a message in this?
And my questions kept coming and coming, tripping over themselves as they ran through my mind. My head was so full of questions it hurt; it pounded.
I decided to find another person; they’ll tell me what I look like. I also need to find food, water and shelter. And all the while creating a show. After all, the world was watching. They were probably watching me right now, wonder what I was going to do. I knew what I was going to do; I just had to find someone to help it pull through. Perhaps someone smart and maybe not so “savvy”. Like Lavender. I wish more than anything to see her right now.
“Run!” I heard from behind me. I turned to face Willow, running at me with teeth bared. I couldn’t move. My eyes just widened at the sight of him. “I said move it!” he yelled again. Grabbing his hand in mine, he started to drag me onto the moor. He didn’t seem like the shy, quiet boy I had met a few days ago. He was wild. He had wild, crazy eyes and wind tossed hair, a grey brown. A tail jutted from his back side, lashing from side to side. Two large grey ears were swiveling atop his skull, pinned as far back as they could go.
He was a wolf.
I screamed and snapped back to reality. I ran, swiftly, and he ran, not quite as swiftly, but enough to dodge rocks and stray hazel bushes. A loud screech split the air but it wasn’t human. It was a train whistle. Soon the iron beast rolled into view as I glanced over my shoulder. We were being chased by a trackless train. Of course, I didn’t question this, just kept running, not thinking about this killer technology.
As we ducked below a hill, the lake’s waterline disappeared from sight. Instead, the moor extended into vague trees. There might not have ever been a lake, maybe I imagined it.
Willow grabbed my arm and pulled me under a ledge into a small cave of sorts. It was like once of those homes people build long ago where the home was in the hill. He pulled me to the very back as the ground started to shake. An ear-splitting yell sliced the air as the train roared above us. We watched it roll away until it faded into the horizon.
We both sat there panting for a second. Suddenly, the thought popped into my head that Willow wasn’t acting as himself. I looked at him; his face was red from running and as he doubled over, trying to catch his breath, the ears atop his head twisted and turned to catch every sound headed his way.
When Willow caught his breath, he looked at me and smiled. Who the heck is he? I asked myself. He stuck his hand out and said, “My name’s Forest, I helped you today.”
My breath caught. It couldn’t be. I started to blush in panic.
“You can thank me now.”
He’s Forest, he’s Forest, I kept repeating to myself. I can’t believe it, he’s Forest. I wanted to ask him, “Are you sure?” but I didn’t want to seem stupid so I sat there, my jaw low, dumbfounded.
As if he could read my mind, he smirked slightly and said, “Y-yes. Hi, Envy.”
When he said my name, my heart fluttered. He’s said my name plenty times before but this time it just seemed different. Like an oh-my-goodness-he-remembers-my-name moment.
“Yeah, I remember you.”
I must have spoken my thoughts because he answered me. The air seemed thick with the awkward from the situation.
“But, you can’t be—” I begin to say, cutting myself short as I continue to stare at him.
“But I am!” he laughs, throwing his arms out and spinning in a circle. “It was pure torture being so quiet; I couldn’t believe it was you. I was dumbstruck, kind of like you are now…” he trails off, looking into some unfocused world. Snapping back to reality, he gained his smile quickly again. “A-and I didn’t want to say anything, I wanted it to be a surprise!” His eyes dazzled and all I could do was stare. “Yeah, s-so I thought,” He strikes and thinking pose and lowers his voice, “’well, now, wouldn’t it be fun if we were friends again?’” His voice goes back to normal, “And so I h-had to find a way for us to officially meet again. S-so while I was in the woods behind us—”
“What?” I yell, “There were woods back there?”
He gives me a deer-in-headlights look before continuing his story, “r-right… well… I was in the woods and I was thinking, thinking, t-thinking…” he becomes unfocused again then shakes his head quickly. He goes on, “and I was like,” another thinking pose and the deep voice to go with it, “’ what a strange place! It’s like we went back in time.’ Then it struck me. ‘We’re in a time-dome!’” He looks at me, smiling, and nods.
“A time-dome?” I finally ask.
“Y-yeah! One of those domes where the creator can change the time era and such.”
“Really?” I question. He nods. I don’t surely remember Forest quite like this but this is him, alright. The stammering was new but it looks like there might be a mental, not physical, cause for it. He doesn’t seem to mind it; I don’t mind it. It’ll just take some getting used to.
“Well, it’s a time-dome. So I-I inferred there must be some monster, some issue, some conflict t-that has to do with this time era. So t-then I tried to find some technology. I mean, it is the 21st century.”
“So I was right!” I grin.
He gave me a strange look again then continued, “Perhaps. A-as I was saying, I was looking for technology… by the way, you look ravishing as a fox.” He winked at me and smiled slyly.
This made me giggle, he was like this before. Spontaneous but can turn on the romance with the snap of his fingers.
I hugged him, enveloping him in my arms, warmth and scent. “Forest, I’m so glad.”
“W-why is that?” he whispered in my ear.
I pulled back and smiled, “I get to see you.”
Our romantic moments were just playful moments, nothing serious. We were never truly together, or going to get married to each other. We didn’t want to become close then to marry another person, which would be devastating. So we stayed as friends, friends with small benefits.
“Well,” breaking from me, he started to exit the earthen cave, “w-we ought to find the others before the time changes.”
“How come?” I ask my head still fuzzy from this whole experience.
“When the time-dome changes time eras, some people may be left behind in the p-previous time.”
“Really?” I question, raising my eyebrows. I walk up next to him and gaze out at the moor before us.
“Yes. S-so truthfully, we could be in a whole other place and time than everyone else.”
We might not ever see anyone else again; we were stuck in the 21st century. However, the other Program clients may be just around the corner, how would we know? So, we started off on a search. There were, predicted, fourteen people in this time-dome, counting us. Perhaps one or two more gained an envelope; are we allowed envelopes during the test?
“Forest,” I begin.
“Willow,” he interrupts suddenly.
I frown at him. “Your name is Forest, not Willow.” He gave me a disapproving look and before he could stop me, I continued. “How long will it be until we go into another time era or something?”
He chews on his bottom lip then answers, “I-it’s predicted from one to six hours b-but officially, it’s unknown.” I nod and try to fit something in before he starts up again but I’m too late. “Also, we won’t k-know we’ve switched times until two hours after it’s already switched.”
I furrow my brow which, supposedly, makes him laugh. “What?” I ask.
He chuckled a bit and said, “i-it takes a while for time to ch-change. Time goes by s-slowly; you think it’ll change in the b-blink of an eye?”
I stood there, looking around us. We’ve made our way out of the moor and, as I wasn’t imagining it, close to a small lake. Behind that lake stood mountains. They looked so proud and tall yet they hunched over with the heavy parcel of snow. Menacing yet completely helpless. When I looked over my shoulder I could see the moor and, very faintly, some of the meadows beyond that. Blue silhouettes of a small wood gleamed on the horizon even beyond the meadows.
“I guess that makes sense,” I mutter, looking off at the pearls of light dancing across the surface of the lake as if they’ve been dancing for years.
I turn to him, slowly becoming suspicious. “How do you know all this?” I ask, arching an eyebrow. He avoids my question and continues talking about the time dome. It’s like he’s been in one before. I cross my arms as we continue towards the shore of the lake. Things were going slowly and my suspicions were growing. His strange stammering didn’t cease to stop and, now that I can study him, he was taller and much, much thinner. He looked the same in some ways. His hair was still dark, his skin was still pale. Although he was still lean and tall, he did gain some muscle. It wasn’t much but it was enough to make me notice.
When we reached the rocky and muddy shore, he looked both ways, his own tail quivering and the ears on his head twitching. I gasped outward when I realized we’d reached the lake. I wadded knee-high into it and stared down at myself. I looked completely and utterly different. How Forest knew it was me, I don’t know.
My hair was like fire and it burned in the evening sunlight. My eyes were large and green. Like the ripest of honeydews. I gingerly lifted a hand and touched the side of my face, lightly turning it so I could examine each freckle like it was an ugly defect.
Looking up and around, I noticed Forest had continued along the shore, his head was hung low and he just kind of stared at the terrain below him. His tail swayed behind him, his ears pointed backwards. I cocked my head to the right and shouted after him, “Hey, Forest! Wait up!” When I reached him, I nudged him a bit, “What’s wrong?”
As we continued along the lake, the light around us began to fade. I’m guessing nightfall, I thought to myself.
His ears perked up and he faced me. “Oh, just doing a bit of-f thinking, n-nothing you should worry about.” I glower as he scratches his head and looks around the time-dome. He adds, “We should find shelter.”
I nod quietly and we begin to split off towards the nearest pile of rocks on the shore. We didn’t talk much, which was strange for him, but set out minds on setting up our camp. It didn’t take long; by nightfall we had a small fire crackling and popping and we set up two small beds. Forest had gathered some strange plants from around that he cooked together. I gathered water from the lake and after, Forest chiseled a small bowl, filled it with water and purified it.
After a bit of laughter and mindless small talk, a large, fuzzy noise of some sort split the soft night air in half. Forest jumped up and yelled at the sky, “You said you wouldn’t!” I stood on the balls of my feet, my ears trying to catch this unfamiliar blare. Unexpectedly, a voice cut the solid noise off, “Welcome to the Program!” It as Toad. His voice was slimy and it sounded like if you grabbed his words, they would slip from your grasp. He continued. “In case some of you are still sleeping under a rock, we are in a time-dome. You’ll find out was it does later. And this time-dome was built by our very own Forest Firm. His own blood, sweat and tears went into this and if you see him, thank him.”
“Forest?” I turn to him but Toad carries on.
“Forest, you know who you are. Give yourself a pat on the back, you’ve done such a wonderful job!” Forest stays still as a rock. “As for the challenge, it’s something a bit unusual this year.”
Whenever you hear that something that sounds a bit out of place, you know it’s bad.
Toad laughed a bit to himself, the speaker cackling with him. “This year all of you will be taking on disasters. Natural disasters and not so natural disasters. In the time-dome, they will be happening. Last one standing wins. Have fun, kids,” the line goes dead.
The only thought that crosses my mind is, why is he so bi-polar?
At first, you think, okay, this isn’t so bad. But you just wait. When you wake up in the middle of the Ice Age, furious with your only hope and ally, and you’re fingers are going numb as you speak, you have a problem.
The time-dome had switched it up on us, we were in the Ice Age. Your first instinct is to panic but I didn’t know a thing about time-domes so I kicked Forest to wake him up. I was furious, how long has he been working for TPM?
“What…?” he muttered, shying away from me subconsciously. I didn’t understand how this roaring blizzard outside our small fort of rocks didn’t affect him. Maybe the creator of the time-dome can’t get hurt by his own creations. Does that mean he’ll win?
“What do we do?” I was too cold and too weighed over with the fact we were in the Ice Age to be too angry at him right now. I’ll just have to bring it up when he least expects it. He lays there, his flanks slowly rising and falling. Outside, the wind whistled and threw in small flurries of snowflakes that dusted the inside of our little cave.
“Forest!” I yell. “Wake up! We’re going to die, we’ll get frost bite! Our clothes aren’t warm enough.” My voice was filled with panic, now. I fell to my knees, shaking him. His skin was warm, not cold like expected. My rage finally came out. I let out a yell, trying to wake Forest up. My eyes stung with tears, I was so angry. Finally, my teeth chattering uncontrollably, I gave up and lied down next to him, wishing for his warmth in my own body.
He shifted so he could face me then opened his eyes. They were full of his usual cheer and the dark greyness of them seemed bright against the snow. Little flakes were dancing in his hair and with the faint freckles on the bridge of his nose. His light skin was always spotted with very faint freckles here and there. My own darned light skin was turning a red in the cold air.
“Y-you do know there’s a t-trick to all this-s,” he says, wiggling his eyebrows.
“There’s a trick?” I inquire. He ignores my question like it’s rhetorical. He hops up and pulls me up with him. “Where are we going?” I manage to say through chattering teeth.
He hugs me and it warms me up. It’s a tad bit strange how he isn’t the least bit cold. I felt a quick tug on my hair. I pull away and my hand flies to my head. The only thing there is my ice cold ears; they twitch at my touch. I arch an eyebrow at Forest and ask him, “Did you just tug on my hair?”
He gives me an honest frown and a shake of his head, “no, n-not at all.” He looks sincere but something tells me to not quite believe him. A huge gust of wind tosses thousands of little lace snowflakes into the roomy make-shift den. Forest blocks the wide opening so I don’t get any more cold.
“Well,” I begin, “what could’ve pulled my hair?”
“T-that thing,” he says, raising his right hand to point at something behind me.
My heart thuds and I turn around. I wasn’t “scared” or anything. I like to call it “nervous” or “impatiently excited.” I thought I’d find something harmful but since Forest didn’t act too “impatiently exited,” I knew that it wasn’t. Instead, behind me hovered a small animal – a bright yellow song bird. It’s small head gawked at me and it had these large, genial eyes. They were the craziest color a bird could have, too. They were lavender. The most beautiful lavender color I have ever seen, to be frank. They were swirling, circling with bright purple. But beyond this happy, chirpy façade, there were obvious folds of sorrow. As smart as I am, I know there were absolutely no song birds in the Ice Age. In fact, just looking at this bird made me feel warm inside. The bird dropped something from its beak before zooming off past Forest and into the vortexes of white.
Forest scratched his head and said, “Well, that w-was weird.”
I barely nodded as I crouched down to investigate the note. Unfolding it, it felt cold against my numb finger tips. It read:
This Willow guy isn’t who he says he is. Even though this time-dome is covered in snow, the setting is still the same. Ditch Willow, meet me at the border line between the meadows and the moor next time the time-dome switches
I don’t want you to freeze.
San? The eighteen year old? I ask myself. I thought he’d be with Flat or someone else. But me? Why me? I look back up at Forest, frowning slightly. He hasn’t helped me at all yet. In fact, he built this time-dome. As I stare at him, his tail begins to twitch back and forth.
“Forest?” I ask. My teeth begin to chatter and my fingers are almost numb.
“Yes, ma’am?” He sits, beginning to push all the snow out of the den.
I open my mouth to say something but I close it again. He knits his brow. I open it again and ask, “Can we get a fire going?” As I see him touch the cold snow, I shiver more, sinking to the ground. I wrap my arms around myself and watch him carefully. He looked so warm, so strong. Seeing all this snow and ice also made me the thirstiest person alive.
First, he just stares at me. Then, a smile broke out across his face. And the next thing I know, I was staring at someone who couldn’t stop laughing. “What?” I demand.
“You’re funny, Envy.”
“I’m not trying to be!” I snap. My instincts were getting the worst of me.
“Y-you haven’t figured out the trick yet?” he asked, cocking a brow.
“No,” I growled. Another eddy, sprinkled with snowflakes, came swirling in. He laughed again. He was so much like the Forest I knew and loved but something had changed within him. Something had carved those deep lines of demonic rage in his eyes. Something has moved his heart, his mind, and his voice. Something had given him that windblown hair on a silver platter and whoever did plainly meant to. He was an unstable ball of the Program’s creation, he wasn’t the real Forest, after all. I get it now, the way his voice skips, he doesn’t react to the cold, and he didn’t go into the lake with me.
He’s not human.
As soon as I had a chance, I ran. And I ran. And I ran. Out into the mesmerizing swirls of snow and the wind that sang shrilly and made your hair curl, I went. He didn’t follow me, he stood there, staring at me, instead. Those large, grey eyes looked so human – but they weren’t. I still couldn’t believe it, I had trusted him. After a while of running, the cold air got to me, scorching my throat. I had to stop and fall into the snow. I coughed and shivered. Boy, was I stupid. I was going to die a Program play thing. I wrapped my red tail as much as I could over my purpling skin. I closed my eyes; I just wanted it all to end. Of course, it will. I haven’t been thinking and my stomach felt like it was eating itself, I was so hungry.
How could I think I could survive out here?
As I was laying down, my eyes closes and my ears turned back, something tapped my head. It was sharp, but dull enough not to break skin. I didn’t move. I didn’t have the strength. Something chirped in my ear which made me sit bolt upright, my heart pounding. My muscles screamed and whined in pain, objecting to my subtle move but I ignored them.
I couldn’t stare directly at the snow, or I’d go snow blind. I learned that from a friend, it happened to her. So I shut my eyes and managed in a hoarse whisper to say, “Who’s there?” Another knock to my skull and I screamed. My eyes flew open and there hovered that same yellow bird with the beautiful, majestic lavender eyes. It seemed to smile at me, as if saying, “It’s going to be alright.”
I swallowed and stared at it, my face thoroughly numb. I felt stupid believing a bird but I did, however. I just coughed and snuggled up in the snow. Slowly, the sound faded and then disappeared. I shut my eyes more, enjoying the silence. The silence that sounded a lot like rain. And gun shots. And curt shouts.