It’s 2048 and the earth has just begun it’s slow demise. The sectors of North America are each experiencing painful attacks; carbon fog roams the streets of Bruhan, only Lemons will grow in Gemack, the sun glares too brightly in Sict, constant earthquakes create thunderous sounds of things falling it Horen and the sulfur burns noses in Gruch. People all over are in constant pain while scientists desperately toil over what they can do to fix it. Finally the find solutions to each of the problems, although they fear for the discomfort it may cause.
“In the new proclamation,” the man with the tie started strongly, firmly; but he tightens his tie with shaking hands and continues, “In the new proclamation there are some rules, rules that must be followed.” The crowd falls silent. They’re standing in neat rows. Children of the age of 5 stand clean and proper behind a sign with a big blue 5 on the left side of the stage. Farther to the right are sequential numbers that went all the way up to 20. Then behind those neat rows were more signs “21-30,” “31-40” and so on up to “81-90”. As the numbers went on the people in the rows got taller, and then paler, and then more shriveled.
“Ahem,” The man tightens his tie again, “These rules, are quite different than the rules we live by today. They are stricter. Safer.” His eyes harden, his confidence returns, “I know many of you have been hearing rumors about us leaving the earth, but No!” He slams his pale fist on the wooden podium in front of him, “We have found a way to keep you safe here.”
The captive audience murmurs and whispers. Energy flies through them. The man with the tie stands still, waiting. The crowd notices, and stops, in sections. The 5 year olds continue making noise until everyone else has stopped. “Ahem,” he clears his throat again, “The formal statement:” ‘formal’ straightens peoples backs and focuses their eyes. “The world has begun it’s fight against mankind, releasing toxins into our air and food. Scientists have been working hard to stop the pain caused by these toxins so that we may continue our lives as naturally as possible. The solution they have found is to remove the sense that is causing pain to our people.”
Energy surges through the crowd. The neat lines loosen and turn into globs. Sweat, nerves and power course through the man’s veins and he slams his hand again. The stress hits him that second, putting tears behind his eyes that he quickly blinks away. He resorts to the only thing he knows, “I WILL HAVE ORDER.” He screams and a vein pops out of his forehead. The crowd freezes. Two women in the 21-30 section have stiff arms against each other’s shoulders. A woman from the 31-40 section has already pushed her way through to section 7 and is clinging tightly to a child. The majority of children from sections 10 and under are merging themselves into the teenage lines, searching desperately for older siblings. The small group of men and women standing in sections 71-80 and 81+ are clearly deep in conversation, a man and a woman holding withered hands. Only one person did not move in the mayhem, a boy in section 17 stands military straight, staring at the man with the tie. Then slowly, as if molasses had spread over the crowd with an invisible knife, they turn their heads, taking steps to reform lines. They aren’t straight or clean. Everyone who used to stand with hands at sides, now stand comfortably with arms crossed or hands on their hips. Everyone, except the boy in section 17, whose arms still hang firmly at his sides.
“Better.” The voice was firm, “But not good enough!” With shocking speed the crowd mimics boy 17. Hands at sides, feet together, back straight, “Now, that’s what I like to see.” The man smiles. The kind of smile that is normally described as evil or sadistic. But this man, with the tie and the power, is happy. They’re listening because they have to, because he is holding their lives in his hands. “Good cooperation, let’s continue.
“The statement reads, ‘Although it would be ideal for the people to retain their abilities, this solution is the best protection we can offer our people,’” In the crowd hands grip behind backs, showing the whiteness of knuckles. Bodies rock forward, pushing weight into toes. “No!” Both hands slam down leaving prints of sweat on the wood, “The senses will be limited,” The man stares straight at the crowd, speaking slowly without regard to the script, “Each sector of the country will now have. Only. Four. Senses. This will vary based on location because, as you all know, attacks have varied.” His lips push upwards, exposing his teeth and spreading warmth down his body.
“You can’t even do that!” Boy 17 screams. He’s wearing faded jeans that fit loosely around his hips, a plain white t-shirt, and canvas sneakers that seem to be more holes than fabric. His face is jeering but his posture stays straight. He appears secure with this expression. It’s clear that he’s the kind of person who enjoys a good joke, especially at someone else’s expense.
The man points, the smile falling from his face, “Would you care to be our example?” He points to the boy and then to the ground next to him. The boy just stares at him “Oh, I get it,” The man says, his fat belly leaning forward onto the podium, “You’re scared.” The boys eyes narrow, the left side of his mouth twitching up.
The boy steps out of line and his faded jeans carry him forward, avoiding the stairs and jumping onto the stage.
“What’s your name, boy?” The man with the tie asks.
“Is that actually important to you?” The boy’s voice is surprisingly soft. He feels as though there’s a rock at the bottom of his stomach but he keeps his expression and body calm. His mind floods with the sensations of his life. The plush silk of his dog’s fur against his cheeks. The bright reds and blues of his 8th birthday party. Sarah’s face, the olive skin with almost black hair. Her smell, soft flowers mixed with lavender. The pungent plastic of his sister’s dolls when they were little. The sirens that bled down his street last week. The whispered word, “You look really handsome,” his mom’s voice transforming into Sarah’s through his dreams. Mac and Cheese. Garlic Bread. Sarah’s mouth.
The man laughs a full belly laugh, bringing Boy 17 back to the present, “You enjoy pushing buttons don’t you?”
The boy doesn’t respond.
“Well then, let’s show these people what’s going to happen! Boy, where do you live?”
“Bruhan” He speaks casually.
“Ah,” The man with the tie clicks his tongue and begins to circle the boy, “You, my dear boy, will lose your sense of touch.”
A gasp rushes through the crowd, but the boy doesn’t even flinch. A woman rubs harshly at her eyes. She is slim the way he is, with a similar nose and curly brown hair. She stands in section 41-50, sneakingly holding the hand of the tall man in front of her. Boy 17’s parents. He just turns his head slowly to the left, staring at the man with the tie, “How?” The word comes out slowly, loudly and the gasp dies away. The tall man squeezes his wife’s hand, a silent statement of it will be okay.
“You underestimate today’s technology.” The man with the tie’s voice sounds like a whisper on the speaker loud but soft, threatening but obvious, “In the olden days there was a disease called Hypothyroid. We found a way to cause this through a special little cream. It’s going to work like this. You’ll give me your arm and I’ll put this special white stuff all over. It may burn a little, but you’re a big boy,” The man taps Boy 17 under the chin, “You’re not afraid. Then I’ll send you away, unless you want to get undressed on stage of course, you’ll finish getting covered and as soon as your skin absorbs all the cream, you won’t be able to feel a thing.”
The majority of the crowd is frozen with shock. The smaller children have collapsed into balls on the ground, some holding their hair or their eyes with tiny fists. The adults rock back and forth, knowledgeable on the consequences of speaking out. The elders clasp hands, the strongest rebellion they can muster. Boy 17 tugs his t-shirt with forefinger and thumb, cooling his chest and stomach, “I never said you couldn’t, I just asked how, now I know.” His voice comes out clean no cracks, no shakes.
The man with the tie can see fear in his audience. He sees the rational thinking that they possess, his brain attempts at logic and fails. “You won’t ever have to feel the pain of Earth’s smoke,” the man tries to soften his voice but Boy 17 wonders what pain? “Victoria, can you bring up the first box?” he calls to the left and wipes the back of his hand on his wide forehand.
A woman in a deep purple pencil skirt steps on the stage. She has dark chestnut hair that falls in intricate braids to her elbows and carries a small metal box. She carries it to the podium and places it on top. She refuses to look the man with the tie in the eye. On the top of the box is the word “Bruhan” written in thick black ink.
The boys hands are shaking as the man steps toward the box. He slides a heavy palm against Victoria’s waist and she sidesteps to the left. He wiggles his fingers above the box, ignoring Victoria’s rejection. “Ready?” the whisper again. The boy nods, quickly. The man grabs the box and nearly shoves it open on the hinge, “Come here,” he beckons the boy closer while the woman steps farther away, all the way off the stage and down the steps, darting back behind the guards.
The boy turns toward the man, takes a few steps and stops, he looks at his shoes, “Can I do one thing first?” His voice cracks, quickly losing its softness for a twinge of fear and a pulse of anger.
“Want your last touch to be something special?” It’s mock concern.
The book looks up, his eyes heavy and dark. His voice strengthens, “Yes.”
“Well, do tell us what that is.”
“My dog’s fur,” the boy hardens his face, “It’s not a request, it’s a demand,” and hops off the stage, clapping his hands and calling, “Roger! Roger!” He hops down between the sections 20 and 21-30.They spread away from him, some with looks of shock on their face and others with looks of pride and reverence.
A large dog with thick white fur comes bounding down the aisle, “There you are,” the boy grips at his chest and buries his face in the dogs back. 3 men push between the lines, disregarding all things. The man on the far left has a bushy black moustache with shorter bristles covering his chubby cheeks. The man in the middle has a thin face but large muscles. The man on the left has slightly smaller muscles and a very clean face.
“Well isn’t this just the sweetest?” The man with the tie grabs the back of the boy’s neck and drags him back onto the stage. The dog whines and the crowd tenses. The man in the middle of the three men in black scoops the dog over his shoulder and the walk single file back to their spot surrounding the circle. The boy just lets it happen. Half walking, half pulling, the man and boy ends up back at the podium with the open box in front of them.
“I’m ready.” The boy closes his eyes and whispers while the man grabs at plastic gloves and plunges his hand into the small box.
“Hold out your arm,” the boy did as he was told and the man grabs his wrist and spreads a silvery pink cream against his hairline. The boy tries to flinch away and gnaws at his lips.
“That hurts,” he breathes.
At the same instant a girl in section 17 cries, “He’s still a kid!” She has olive skin with heavy dark brown hair waving over her left shoulder. Boy 17’s eyes widen and he sways. “This isn’t okay.” The same three men are walking towards her, Boy 17’s knees hit the wood of the stage.
“Sarah,” he whispers, “Don’t.” The three men stand to her side, the one with the moustache touches her arm softly. Boy 17 bends in half, a ball on the stage. The children of the audience scream and the adults begin to talk to each other. A teary-eyed Sarah is being led away from the audience. She seems quiet, not up for a fight, only the people around her saw the way that moustache man looked at her. The way his hand held her wrist, angry and passionate. They saw the fear that hit her face, they saw the defeat.
“Everybody, quiet!” The man in the tie called, “We’re not done yet. The girl will be fine. She was merely experiencing hallucinations because of the earth attacks.” The man in the tie has officially decided to try and soothe the crowd, this is getting too intense, they will see his power later. He crouches next to the boy, “I promise she will be okay, but you must be strong. He holds a hand out to Boy 17, who stands up without taking it. “I think we need some positive energy here. This meeting is about happy news, let us cheer for, you never told me your name.”
“Alex.” Alex’s eyes bend down toward his holey shoes, defeat spreads across his shoulders and lips, red bags already forming under his eyes.
“Let us cheer for Alex!” Children try to wipe their tears. Teens and adults clap respectfully. The elders frown, still holding each other’s hands. The man in the tie smiles broadly, raising his, and Alex’s hand above their heads. Then he turns his head, “Are you ready Alex?”
Alex closes his eyes, breathes deep and inwardly cringes at the squish of the man’s hand against his, “I’m ready.” It’s barely a whisper and he only manages it for Sarah. The man covers Alex’s arms in the burning cold pink cream. He wipes it around his neck. Alex’s mind flicks to the idea of strangling, Please he closes his eyes, please kill me if Sarah is not okay. He thinks for a moment it’s happening when the burning pierces through his skin, but he keeps breathing.
The man scoops one last section of cream from the box with his right hand. Using his left he spreads it across Alex’s forehead. Alex lifts his eyes, holding some kind of connection with this man. The cream is placed along his hairline, jaw bone and nose, “You have to stop crying,” The man says it quietly but harshly, not into the microphone, “Your tears will stop it from working.” Alex just stares at him. The man takes the edge of his shirt and pushes at Alex’s cheeks. The touch isn’t rough which frustrates Alex, he hadn’t even realized he was crying. The cream is spread across his cheeks but this time he doesn’t feel the burn.
“It’s time for you to go, there’s more skin to cover that we don’t want to see here.” The man with the tie puts his hand on the small of Alex’s back and leads him off stage. Alex can feel the pressure and realizes that this may be the last time that happens. He looks down at his arms, swaying against his sleeves and realizes he doesn’t feel anything. “People of Bruhan, follow Alex.” Alex stumbles down the three stairs into the arms of Victoria, she smiles at him but still, he feels nothing.
Men in full black walk down the aisles from the back carrying tall wooden signs. Each sign has a word. Bruhan. Gruch. Gemack. Sict. Horen. The crowd flounders for their family, desperate to go through this pain with the people they love.
The children cry quietly, unsure of what’s going on. They’re carried to proper sectors by parents or older siblings walking with a nervous confidence. A few try to run but the men covered in black tighten around the crowd, standing so close that their shoulders touch. People of all ages plead with the guards, begging them for escape. The guards only looked ahead, pretending as hard as they can that they can’t hear. People shake violently, they know what’s going on. The man’s words on the stage did nothing to help. The elders walk calmly through the crowd, touching the shoulders of people crouched on the ground. They held hands and elbows, they hugged and wiped tears, whispering words of confidence to the children it will be okay. Then leading them to where they belonged.
The man with the tie looms behind the podium. The noise of the crowd increases and nervous faced citizens step up to the men holding the signs who pointed them to tables now set up in front of the stage. These faces, connected to shaking bodies found their way to the tables and slowly, slowly, lost one sense. Often the one they revered the most. A young girl with a passion for singing becomes deaf. An up-and-coming chef loses his taste. One artist loses her sight while another loses her touch.
Women holding children push to the middle. Trying desperately to save their children who cling with small fists to the cloth on their mother’s breast. A father steps into the circle, grabbing his wife’s shoulders and kissing her. “It’s okay,” he whispers, “They’re only taking our taste. We’ll be safer.” He doesn’t believe it but he knows that now is not the right time for a fight.
Alex was led to a small room behind the stage. Victoria followed him inside, closing the door and turning to a counter-top. “You’ll have to take off all of your clothes,” her voice was soft and afraid.
Alex made no movement to take off his clothes, instead saying, “What happens to you?”
“What do you mean?” She whispers.
“What happens to you?” He repeated himself, his words void of emotion, “You’re in the government. Are they doing this to you too?” Alex can see her hands tense against the countertop. He’s hitting a nerve but he doesn’t care.
“I have to go.” She moves her hands to the doorknob, “I’ll be right back.”
“You can’t leave. Then they’ll definitely do something to you.” Alex could sense bitterness within him but he was unable to understand it, “They won’t if you do what you’re told, will they?”
“They already have.” Her soft voice deepened and her muscles clenched inward.
Victoria turns around, tears sitting on the cushion of her eyelashes, she sticks her tongue out, showing the raw skin that it is made of. “It hurts,” she said. Alex feels no sympathy.
In the end no one was saved. In the end, everyone had four senses. In the end, everything was different.
That wasn’t all the change North America faced that day. Fences were constructed. Fences that you couldn’t see in Sict. That you couldn’t feel in Bruhan. Couldn’t smell in Gruch. Couldn’t taste in Gemack. And couldn’t hear in Horen.The world changed and it hurt. The people hurt. But years passed and things got better. People who were alive that tragic day struggled to recover. The government tried to maintain peace by providing counseling and support. They gained fighters for their reign and people soon began to think of it as natural. Years later the earth stopped producing it’s harmful substances and so the government changed the rules. Losing a sense became a right of passage when you turn 5. A right of passage, the way it was for Alex.