I, Chester Hayes, don’t usually look like this. I usually have rosy cheeks and a skip in my step but today, I walk flat-footed and without my cheery smile. I am walking towards my doom, the town hall. Everyone in town knows that I am meeting with the head council but nobody is quite sure why. They aren’t supposed to gossip but everybody does. This is one of the rules that they are more lenient about. The other rules need to be followed all the time, no exceptions, as it is posted everywhere in town.
As I get closer to the now looming building, I realize that I need to walk a little faster or else I won’t get there on time. Time is a big deal for the head council because they have tons of other meetings that have topics that are all way more important than a little rule-breaking from a young boy like me. Yes, I am a rule-breaker. Bam, mark me with a large red stamp across my forehead, it’s not like nobody knows. Everybody knows that I have done something wrong and they all know that I am probably going to be gone forever.
There was a kid about eight years ago who also walked the same road I did. Nobody ever found out what he did but they knew that something went terribly wrong. He went to talk to the head council and he was never seen again. His family was devastated and they wanted to leave but the gates didn’t open for them. The head council knew that once they left they would never come back and if they left everyone else would want to leave too.
That’s the problem with this town. Nobody knows what is out beyond the gates. Curiosity is natural instincts to human and that is how I got in trouble. I am surprised that no one else has tried to see what could be beyond the gates. I didn’t literally climb over the gates but it was close.
We all have computers in our houses as it is the way we receive mail and the newspaper. My grandmother says that the newspaper used to be on paper like the old book she keeps on her bedside table and that the mail would take a week to get from one house to another. The head council decided to save the trees and paper and do everything electronically. This was before my grandmother was married.
On the computers, we have access to the internet but no social websites. The head council cut us off from the world. I decided that I wanted to know why they make us blocked off from the rest of the world. I worked on hacking the computer so that I could know what was going on in the rest of the world. I was simply curious about the outside world.
Now, I come to a stop in front the large door and gaze all the way up to the intricate gargoyles and angels that are intertwined with the roof. The entrance is grand, like a town hall’s should be, with green and gold swirls on the door and a stone angel above the steps, watching over you. I open the door and I come to a desk with a woman sitting at it. “Hello, do you have an appointment today?”
I realize that she is speaking to me and I finish gazing around the room before I answer. “Hi, yes, I believe I do have an appointment. My name is Chester Hayes, I am here to see the town council.”
I wait for the look of shock to appear on her face because this short polite boy can’t possibly be the one. It never appears. She glances down to her book of appointments and runs her finger down the side.
“Wow, just on time I see. Very good. The town council will be appreciative. You may sit over there and I’ll call in to tell them you are here.” She motions to emerald and gold couches and chairs across the hallway.
As I sit down, she presses an intercom and speaks into it. She talks in a low voice so I can’t exactly tell what she is saying. I’m sure it is something about me but I don’t really mind. People have been talking all about me and everybody knows about it. No one tries to give stares or looks but I catch them doing it all the time.
I had a few friends before the whole ordeal but they aren’t allowed to talk to me anymore because the town council is afraid that I will spread around whatever I found about the outside world. The town council contacted me right after they found out about my bad hacking job and told me that I couldn’t leave my house and I couldn’t talk to anybody except for my family. Which was easy because nobody wanted to talk to me after they found out what happened. My family wasn’t very happy with me, so there wasn’t much talking on that part either.
I hear my name being called and I gather my thoughts. I have no idea what to expect the town council to say but I know it will be bad. The secretary points to the first door on my left. I give her a small smile of thanks and she smiles back before returning to her work. I stand up and make my way over to the door. I don’t have much time to think about what I will say because the door opens for me right as I step in front of it.
I lean back in surprise as the door swings open and I realize that now everyone in the room is looking at me. The room is completely white with one large window looking out over the town’s park and a table taking up most of the room. All of the chairs are taken up by men in dark suits but one is left empty for me.
The man at the head of the table closest to the door motions for me to sit down. Everybody watches me as I slowly walk over to my seat. Once I’m sitting down, the man at the head of the table begins to talk. “Chester Hayes, correct?”
I try to mumble out an answer but all I can do is nod my head. I didn’t think that I would become that scared in front of the town council but hearing the man’s voice makes my stomach churn. “You know what you have done, there is no need to go over it, I assume?”
The rest of the men all nod their heads and turn to look at me. I nod my head again, with my tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth.
“The council here have been having a hard time trying to decide what we should do with you. Before we give you your verdict, we would like you to tell us what your motives were and what you hoped to accomplish with this.” The man leaned back and looked at me to start talking.
“Well, um, you see...” I stutter along, hoping for words to come that make sense. They all lean back and continue to watch me fumble with my words.
“I was reading in the library about the countries of the old world and I wanted to know more about what was past the gates. The librarian wasn’t much help when I asked her about the old world and how we came to be. She gave me more book references but that was about it. I knew that my computer could help me because I read in the book that the people in the old world could look up anything and everything on their computer and get answers. So I tried but I couldn’t get past the firewall, I think that is what it is called, to search for these old countries. There was a book about computers at the library and I read all about hacking in that book and looked for more but I couldn’t find anything else about computers. I decided to use what I had and hack the computer system so that I could search for the old countries. I know that it is a bad idea now but I just wanted to know what was out there and why we can’t see it.” I pause to take a breath and let what I just said sink into the councilmen’s heads.
The man at the head of the table leans forward and steeples his hands on the table. “Chester, you know that you have violated one of the rules in the guidebook. This is usually met with the punishment of expulsion from the town limits.”
As soon as he says it I know, but I’m not ready for it. My head is spinning with questions about everything and my stomach is turning even more than before.
“But we have a compromise for you. You don’t have to leave but you have to live in the town hall and take classes with other curious individuals about the outside world.”
I slowly look up in surprise. “Take classes? Like school?”
“Yes, classes about advertising and how it affects the outside world. We will be telling everyone that you have been expelled from the community so then no one will get suspicious.”
“Even my parents?”
“Unfortunately, yes. If too many people find out they will get curious and then what is the point of us closing off the town? Anyway you will be starting classes right after this meeting.”
“What about my things from my house? And my clothes?”
“You will be supplied with clothes here and you don’t need any of your stuff anymore.” He turns to the rest of the men and ask if they have anything they would like to add. Nobody says anything. “Alright, well I have other business to attend to and you have to go meet everyone.”
As the words leave his mouth, two burly men stand up and cart me off to the higher floors of the town hall. We come to a stop in front of a door that looks nothing like the rest of the town hall. It is a black door and the whole hallway looks like something out of an office building, not a fancy town hall.
“We’ll wait for you to get changed. Empty all your pockets and get rid of anything else that you might have on. Your clothes are in there along with your shoes.” The men open the door for me and wait for me to step inside.
I nod my head hesitantly and shuffle inside. I imagine this is how someone in prison would feel. We don’t have a prison in town because nobody does anything bad. Except for the rule-breakers like me.
Inside the room there is a single lightbulb that turns on when I walk inside and on the floor there is a pile of white clothes. I don’t have anything in my pockets except for lint so I shed my normal clothes and put on the white jumper, the white socks and the white sneakers.
I open the door and the light shuts off. The men are still standing there talking quietly. They notice my return and chuckle.
“Whew, he looks like an angel in that suit!”
“Don’t worry, you won’t get any whiter than that!”
As we walk along the hallway they explain to me that after our classes are done for the day, we have to do manual labor, usually in the basement with the grease and grime. We turn and walk to another hallway that has one door at the end of it. I must looked worried because they pat me on the back and tell me that there is nothing to be afraid of.
We reach the end of the hall and one of the men swipes his finger across a keypad and the door opens. Inside the door, there are steps going down. The men tell me that at the end of the stairwell there is another door and that door will lead to the dormitories where I will be staying. I start to descend the staircase and I look back up just in time to see one of the men smile and give me a thumbs up.
I reach the door at the bottom of the staircase and calm myself before I open it. I’m not exactly sure what to expect but I know that there is no going back now. If there are people on the other side, I want to look confident and not scared.
I ready myself and open the door. Nobody is there. It’s another long hallway with doors on one side and windows on the other. I hear children playing and realize that the windows are dug into the ground around the park. In front of me there is a metal gate with a desk and some papers on it behind the gate. I decide to ring the bell because there is no other way of getting in.
The bell dings once and nothing happens. I ring it again, just to be sure that someone hears me. I begin to hear a scuffling sound down the hall but I can’t quite see through the metal gate.
“Oh, you must be the new boy. I am so sorry that I am late. I was coming out to meet you but then someone needed my assistance. Now where are those keys...” A bent over old man walks up the hallway, muttering to himself. He finally finds the keys and opens the door for me.
“I am Charlie, the person who runs everything down here. Welcome, welcome. Now these are the dormitories and farther down is the lunch room and then we have a few recreational rooms farther down. The boys are at classes right now so I’ll show you to your room. Now where are those keys...” Charlie pauses at the second door from the end of the hallway and I get a glance into an open space with a few tables and chairs scattered around and some more unmarked doors.
“Okay, okay, here they are. And here, is your room. Everybody gets their own room because there aren’t many like you around. Now you can get settled in and I’ll be back to check on you later. Alright now.” He turns around and shuts the door behind him.
I am left in a room with a small bed in the corner with a flannel blue blanket. There is a mirror on the wall across from the bed and under that a small dresser for all of my stuff that I don’t have. My feelings are still numb. I hadn’t been able to say goodbye to my parents or the rest of my family and within an hour, my life had changed drastically from above ground to below ground. I have nothing else to do so I crawl into bed and fall asleep.
After a few months of my new life, I was called by Charlie to see him in his office. When I get there, he is sitting down and not talking, something that I have never seen him do. A man in a black suit is sitting in a chair next to him. I faintly recognize him.
“Chester, this is the man who is top of the head council and he has noticed your work in the advertising classes. He wants you to go out into the outside world. You will be going with some of the other boys who have potential like you.” Charlie speaks quietly as if everyone else can hear what he is saying.
“Outside, outside? Like going to the old world countries?” I have never heard of this happening to anybody but it sounds like so much fun.
“Yes. You will be taking extra classes because you need to learn what you will be doing in those countries.” The man in the dark suit stands up as he speaks and offers me pen to sign a contract with. “The only thing is that we need to make sure is that you will be willing to come back to the town. You cannot go off on your own and start a new life in the old world countries. By signing this contract, it will tie you to this town and it will insure that you are saying the right things to the people out there.”
“What exactly am I promoting, sir?” I sign the contract quickly because there is no way that I would pass this up but I realize that I don’t know exactly what I am supposed to be saying to the people.
“Our town. It is time to spread knowledge of our type of community, one without advertisement and without a harmful society that makes everyone think bad about themselves.”
With that, I was whisked away into weeks worth of classes teaching me how to advertise and how to make our town seem liveable. They had me practice on Charlie and the other boys and they all said that they would want to live there. I was convinced that I was a perfect salesman and that everybody would want to start their own community like ours.
Finally it was take-off day. We flew in a helicopter, so no one from town could see us, to all over the world. Everything was going well until we came to a city called Chicago where protestors came to meet us. They must have heard about us from other cities and they thought that our idea was not good at all, for some reason.
Once we finish our presentation and speeches, we allow time for questions from the crowd. Usually the questions are about visit limitations and if they can come check out our town, but this time they were more in depth about us.
“How long have you lived in this community?”
“Have you ever lived outside of this community?”
“How you do expect us to believe you?”
“Why is this community better than ours?”
These questions fired out from the crowd and the crowd began to murmur with inquiry. I turned to look at one of the boys to see if he knew what to do. He looked back at me and shrugged his shoulders. We had one of the men in the dark suits along with us, in case we needed his help but he looked as confused as we did.
One girl was on top of another person’s shoulders addressing the crowd with her back towards us. “These men are trying to do what is right in their minds. Nobody should be booing them because of this,” For a moment I thought that she was on our side of the story but then she continued to put us down for having something called biases. “Those people are advertisements themselves, and they are advertising a community free of ads and a harmful society. But they are harming their own society by not having any sense of being different.”
Different, but who needs different, when you can have the same? I have the same ideas as my parents and the same beliefs, so there is no conflict and no arguments. Violence is created by different ideas clashing and making people believe they are better than the others.
We were quickly shuttled off the stage so that a riot wouldn’t break out but I thought about what the girl said the whole ride home in the helicopter. Our town believes that we are better than the other people and that’s why we are advertising. We hide our ads as ideas and beliefs so people can believe them more than they would just believe regular ads.
Their society makes them want more and more things, which doesn’t happen in our community at all. That was the point when they created the town, to make us a separate generation that doesn’t have the consumer gene. The one flaw in that system though is that fact that everybody will then be the same. There are no new products that people want, it’s just the same old brands of clothes and toys and gadgets.
We went back to town to report what had happened and the town council looked a little surprised about the riot in Chicago. They realized that sending us out was probably one of their worst ideas yet because they said that we weren’t prepared enough. I personally don’t think we could have been more prepared. They couldn’t have controlled everyone’s reactions to what we said, and that’s the point of having a conversation with someone. You learn about their side of the story and then they learn about your ideas. Without different ideas in our town, healthy debates like those couldn’t happen and that is why we weren’t prepared.
After a few more years of conflict between the town council, they learned that they couldn’t keep us contained so they let the gates open and us flood out into the world. The world will have many new people who will be eager to learn more about what they missed and what they never knew. The world will never know what hit them.