~Before you begin reading, let me make a few notes. I wrote this book years ago when dystopians were just past their peak. I soon discovered there was no room for it in the book market, and for the past five years it’s been hidden away on my computer. I dug it out today on a hunch, and after reading the first chapter, I realize that I can’t, nor do I want to, hide this anymore. So since there’s no printed future for this story, why not give it to you all through my blog. I hope you enjoy.~
In my world there are two groups of people. The Upright and the Obliged. Now I had the utmost pleasure at being born into the latter of the two, what we call the Obliged. Always helpless but ever grateful. The name makes me sick.
I hear it says in the Upright Manifesto that the Upright shall strive for “a community of harmony, where every life is given sacred significance” and that “the human mind is one’s most powerful tool, which must be bent in the direction of goodness, and if there is resistance, it must be broken.” So much for harmony there.
Every now and then the Upright will Pick a lucky teenager to drag from their home for what the Upright call “better lives.” Sounds great, right?
Wrong. Very, very wrong.
The Upright believe they have a divine duty to care for the children of the Obliged. And once they catch your eye, there’s no going back. If you already have a family, that’s too bad. No point in fighting since the Upright government will haul you away kicking and screaming if they have to.
Because you’re one of them now. An Upright.
My head hurts, like someone’s been tapping on my temples none too gently with a hammer. I’m not too prone to headaches, but being in this cramped room all day, sitting in this unforgiving wooden chair, isn’t exactly conducive to a calm mind. All I can think about is freedom, and all freedom can do is elude me and leave behind its rage in that magical spot just behind my temples. I’m looking out the window when my office door suddenly bangs open. My mom waltzes in, a stack of files covering her face so I can just make out the top of her brunette head.
She drops the stack unceremoniously on my desk, causing a few stray papers to fly onto the floor.
“More?” I ask her. “There’s no way Darkwood is this interesting.”
“Yea well, you know the government Rae. You so much as draw a chalk picture on the sidewalk and you get your name in one of these bad boys,” my mother, Ellie, says, tapping the top file with her finger.
“I read these you know, some of them anyway,” I say, grabbing one of the new files and flipping it open. I make a disgusted face. Someone got written up for spitting on the sidewalk in front of the Town Hall.
“And what do you think?”
“I think we’re kind of boring,” I sigh as I move the files around on my desk between other stacks of papers and envelopes, trying to create some sense of organization amidst the chaos. I bend down to pick up the papers on the floor.
“And you’re not?” My mom jokes as she walks out of my office.
“Of course not!” I yell back, jerking up so quickly I hit my head on the underside of my desk. I rub the back of my head, my already pounding headache turning into a full-blown explosion.
A few days a week I work for my mom at the Darkwood Criminal Office, not by choice. I’m in a special program for the Obliged where they train the workforce while we’re still in school. ‘They’ being the Upright. Not that they’re much involved besides pulling the strings. They, of course, prefer to stay on the other side of the border, because they’re the innovators, the thinkers. We do the dirty work. Well, us and the Upright who decide to join the military, but those are typically power-hungry bigots who enjoy the opportunity to exert their influence on the defenseless.
The only upside to this pointless job is that I get to spend time with my mom, or as much time as you can spend while filing and wanting to bang your head against a wall –
when it’s not hurting that is. My mom is my hero. She raised me to be exactly like her: independent, easily frustrated, and discontent with life as we know it. And aside from our psychological similarities, people often mistake us for sisters. My mom looks young, and with our brunette waves and dark brown eyes, it’s an easy mistake to make.
Sensing I’m thinking about her, Mom comes back in with a sandwich and tosses it on my desk. I look at the plastic encasing the bland choking hazard sitting on my desk.
“Thanks,” I reply as she sits down in one of my office chairs. “Please, make yourself at home.”
“You do at my house,” she says and pulls on the wrapping of her own sandwich. “I hate ham.”
“Make another one then,” I say and take a bite of my own.
She snorts. “Yea, I’ll make a sandwich I like when the Upright keep the lights on past ten o’clock.”
The Upright rule over us, the Obliged, with an iron fist. They order every aspect of our lives, including our bedtimes, and there’s nothing we can do about it. They even give us weekly meal plans with just the right amount of food to make it. If you eat something out of turn you’ll be missing a meal somewhere later down the line. Today was Monday, which meant sandwiches for lunch. Ham sandwiches.
“Shouldn’t you be working or something?” I ask through a mouthful of bread.
“And miss sharing this wonderful meal with you?” She replies. “Yea I should, actually.” She gets up and leaves.
I grin and turn back to work, sandwich in one hand and manila folder in the other. Whenever I work, Mom is always finding excuses to pop into my office. Not that I mind, her distractions keep me sane.
I toss the sandwich aside, not exactly feeling up to the effort of swallowing each dry mouthful, and start separating the files, skimming over the ones that look vaguely interesting. Nothing, nothing at all. Not a hint of real defiance, just stupid things. “Broke house window to get inside own home. Lost keys.” Not exactly the kind of thing that inspired rebellion. I don’t even know why this guy has a file. Probably because he should have informed an Upright to take care of the problem rather than break into his own home. Sure there are probably better ways to get inside than breaking your own window, but isn’t that what freedom is? The ability to break your own window because you locked your keys inside? According to the Upright, the answer to that question is a big fat manila envelope and a month in the slammer.
Years ago, forty to be exact, the Obliged, then called the Valiant, were allies in a war. We were helping the Ascendants fight against the Upright. I think there was some kind of pride factor going on. I mean, they have practically the same name.
I don’t know what the war was really over, or why we sided with the Ascendants rather than staying out of it. Every version of history we study isn’t even close to what really happened according to my parents’ generation. We just read and memorize the names and dates we’re told and never ask questions. If there’s one thing you learn quickly as an Obliged, it’s that you don’t ask questions.
The Upright saw us Valiant as a threat and knew they’d never win with us overseas helping the Ascendants. The Upright then did the only thing that made sense to do. They attacked us at home.
Our countries are neighbors so it wasn’t a long walk, and since most of our troops were overseas it wasn’t a long fight. The Upright conquered us easily and since that fateful day, we have been known as the Obliged. “Ever thankful and always willing” is our motto. “Ever thankful” to the Upright for giving us a second chance. “Always willing” to do anything we can to make up for helping the Ascendants.
At least that’s the version I hear from my mom. At school it’s a completely different story. Who knows which is truer, but since she was there I think I’ll side with her. After all it was only forty years ago.