“Can you believe it?” Dulce said to his friend as they crossed the grassy yard, heading towards the hovership that lingered in the blue distance.
“That was probably illegal,” Greshen smirked, running a hand across his shaved head. “God. But that’s why I love Mr. Liepello.”
The clean, purified air smelled faintly like orange leaves as they climbed onto the ship. Its lights flooded their faces, turning their skin to pale blue. The two scurried down the alley into one of the back seats. The bus was almost full, and the quiet hum of voices rose into the air, loud enough so that their words were indistinguishable amongst the many conversations swirling around them.
The two lapsed into a pensive silence. Dulce pulled open her school bag and began to flip through a yellow binder. Greshen stared out of the window, where the neat apartments stood in perfect, orderly lines, one after another, beneath a flat white sky.
“Can you believe it?” Dulce said again. “How they used to live? They used to tear animals apart with just their teeth. Imagine that, Gresh. Blood dripping down your chin. Coming home to see your mother holding a ribcage between her fingers, the fragile bones still covered with organs and tissue…”
“Oh, stop being so morbid,” he said. “I’m sure they didn’t know what they were doing.”
“Oh, they knew alright,” Dulce hissed, eyes growing wide. “Weren’t you listening? Mr. Liepello told us that before civilization, sometimes people would just spend their whole lives, day after day, killing things. They would catch fish and peel all of their skin off with their hands. And they would do it for fun.”
“Well, there’s no reason to think about that now,” Greshen said sullenly. He frowned.
“And the diseases! They would just float around in the air. And the thing was, people knew about it. Every day, one of them could drop dead, and there was nothing they could do about it.”
“How bizarre,” mused Greshen, eyes turned towards the window.
“And… what really struck me as odd was their government. They would put people in cages if they did something wrong. And there was no way to know if anyone was telling the truth.”
“So back then, I could have a whole secret world in my head. And there would be no record of it, and I could live my whole life and no one would ever know about it. What a strange world that would be. I can’t imagine not having records of my thoughts. I really hope I get good grades on them this year.”
Dulce’s eyes gleamed. “I wish we didn’t have a thought record,” she said quietly. Her voice was as soft as a breath of air. “I think if I lived a hundred years ago, I would want to sleep now. I don’t really want to see anymore.”
“What a waste of life. Sleeping,” Greshen said, rolling his eyes. “And to think, people would spend half their lives, not even really alive.”
Suddenly, Dulce turned towards him. “Gresh?” she said, voice thin and very high. “I’m… I’m scared.”
“Why? Don’t worry. I’m sure you’ll get an A on your thoughts this year. You always do,” he said calmly. He laid a hand on the warm, grey fabric of the seat in front of him. The air inside of the bus was a cool, glassy blue.
“Well, if only you could just organize your thoughts better…” she said. Her eyes were misty. “Gresh, remember about love, and things? What Mr. Liepello told us?”
“Well, love,” he said. “I know that love the color green, especially when it’s got a hint of gold to it, like the sun outside now. I know that I love speaking class, and words, and trees, and the way they smell in the autumn. But especially the sun.”
The sun’s artificially simulated rays coursed down in streamy, electrical beauty from the paper sky, pouring through the glass window, landing in a neat square of light on the rubber floor. The stinging smell of disinfectant and orange air purifier clouded the air.
He turned to face her, voice picking up. “But you probably mean that other kind of love… can you believe it? People used to be entirely governed by their desire. Of course, we learned about that in health class; it’s no secret. After all, it’s much better now. Love and desire just made a big mess of things. That’s what they’ve been teaching us to kindergarten, at least; you know that, Dulce. Dammit, if I didn’t know better I’d think you were actually supporting love! They’d wash your memory in a second, you know that. That’s horrible. You know about the Great Wars. Love caused everything to fall apart.”
“Don’t you love the October rain?” she said. “Don’t you love dancing? Do you think you would ever want to dance with me, Gresh?”
“What is with you today?” His clear, hazel eyes sparkled in the translucent sun. “Look, Mr. Liepello’s crazy. It’s not like this is some freaking dystopia that we’re stuck in. It’s jut the future. And it’s better. The air was polluted. There was trash everywhere. People would kill each other every day. It was dirty and messy and people would lie to each other and misunderstand things, and they’d get addicted to drugs and there was so much hypocrisy and hate. Don’t you remember all our lessons? They tell us about all this so that we won’t end up like that again.”
“You’re right,” Dulce said. “I wish Mr. Liepello had never told us what he did, though. I… I didn’t need to know about it. I think that if I could, I would probably cry.”
“Maybe you should check your hormone count,” Greshen remarked, voice a little softer.
“They’re pumping me full of happiness right now, but I still feel sad and it won’t go away. What’s wrong with me, Greshen? Why am I not at medium again?” She frantically pushed a small yellow button embedded in her left arm, over and over again.
“That’s why the old world was so bad,” he said somberly. “People felt things so strongly and so badly. It must have hurt them so. I wonder what it will be like a hundred years from now… Maybe we’ll feel nothing at all. That would be nice. Maybe I’ll even live to see that day come.”
Dulce’s only reply was the sound of her harsh, shuddering gasps.
“What’s making you so sad? Man, this is messed up. You should be back at medium by now. I’ve gotta call someone. I’ve gotta tell someone. I can’t believe this is actually happening. I’ve never seen someone’s count stay so low for this long.”
Tentatively, he reached over and placed a hand on her thin shoulder. He could feel the fabric of her white school blouse, and beneath it, the blood coursing under her warm flesh.
She stopped shaking, then, and turned to face him.
“Did you know about love before today?”
“Well, of course,” he said. “People couldn’t control themselves. Their impulses. It was disgusting.”
“No. I mean, well, you know. What actually…happens.”
“I’d heard of it, but… no. Never in that, uh, context.”
“Do you know what’s bad?”
“I think I’m thinking those thoughts about you now.”
Greshen withdrew his hand quickly. Dulce’s eyes were wide. “No. I mean… no. That just came out. It wasn’t the truth. I… no. I’m sorry.” Her hands fidgeted wildly. Her cheeks were a brilliant pink. “I shouldn’t have said that, should I?”
He turned to look at her. His eyes were dark. “They’ll wash you, you know. They’re probably coming for us now. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t have touched you.”
“But what kind of a world is this if I’m not allowed to–” Suddenly, she stopped talking. “Look. I just got a message from Kendra.” The little computer screen imprinted on the back of her hand blinked, casting a vivid neon blue light over both their faces.
“Oh, my,” she said, voice breaking. “Oh, my.”
“What happened? Look, I’ll cover for you. I’ll say I made you. I won’t let them delete your memory. I won’t!” Greshen cried, his arms flailing wildly.
“No, no, no…” Dulce gasped, staring at the screen.
“I’ll say I made you… but oh no, they won’t believe that, I only touched you…Oh, God, I’m sorry,” he muttered.
“No, it’s not that,” she said in a dark voice. “It’s Mr. Liepello. They’ve killed him.”
“Killed?” Greshen wailed. “No. That’s impossible. I won’t believe it.”
Dulce was breathing heavily. “I can’t believe it. I can’t believe they actually went through with it.”
Greshen clenched his hands into fists. “Why would they kill him? Oh, my, I never thought something like this would actually happen. He can’t be dead. He just can’t.”
“He’s gone,” she said, voice a whisper.
“But… but why wouldn’t they just delete his memory? What did he do that was so bad?”
“He talked to us,” she said. “He told us everything. It’s not allowed. We’re corrupted too. And… and they’re coming for us next.”
“We’re going to die?” he gasped incredulously.
Around them, the bus hummed with many voices, completely oblivious to the trauma occurring in their midst.
“No. They’re just going to erase the memory of his class from our minds. Everything will be as it’s supposed to,” she said in a shaky voice. “Everything will be like it was before.”
“What if I don’t want it that way?” Greshen said.
“We have no choice. This is the world that we live in,” she said, her voice fraught with misery.
“After today, will it matter?” Then, before he even fully realized what he was about to do, he leaned forward and placed his lips very quickly on hers.
Then, as fast as it had began, it was over.
“What was that for?” Dulce said.
“Um,” said Greshen.
“I don’t know if I can take this,” she moaned, looking away. “I’m sort of glad they’re erasing our memories. I think I’m feeling about a billion different things right now.” She buried her head in her hands.
“We’re here,” he said weakly.
The bus had ground to a stop, and they had arrived at the block that they both lived on. The fake sun seemed to turn the grass to a phosphorescent gold. The clouds were wisps of cotton hung by invisible string. All of it, designed to prevent illness and depression. All of it gilded in hues of orange, green, and gold. It was a perfect Indian summer day, a day in a summer that seemed to stretch on and on, deep into October. It was a summer designed by a computer program, created by expert artists. It wasn’t real at all.
Every day, a team of workers stretched out the massive canvas paper over the entire sky of the entire Earth, a paper strong enough to block out the harmful ultraviolet rays and gases that still lingered just beyond the white. The team used extraordinarily fast airships to race across the sky. Everything was fast, everything in the world. They only used an old-fashioned hovercraft bus because the school board believed that it was an important time for socialization.
“I wonder if I’ve ever had my memory erased before,” Dulce said. “It’s impossible for me to know, but I wish I did. Maybe they’re erasing it all the time, every day. Maybe we’ve even tried to run away or kill ourselves before,” Dulce said, gliding down the bus’s stairs to where they set her gently down on the smooth, silver street, embedded with shimmering, crystal jewels. Her eyes gleamed.
Greshen reached over and put his hand in hers. Her skin was hot, and her fingers shook in his. Her eyes glistened.
“This is our life now,” he said. “It’s better this way.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Gresh.”
“It’s the truth,” he said simply.
“Yes, I suppose it really is,” she replied at last, and with that they turned their separate ways, disappearing into the deep, yellow sunlight.
A tear dripped down Dulce’s face, a tiny, quiet diamond in the blue.
Age 14, Grade 9