It's A Conspiracy Competition Entry Story
“I’ve been… not-speaking recently.”
“Oh?” My mother says, stirring her tea gently. Her gaze quickly flicks to the camera in the corner of the room but returns to me just as fast. “What do you mean?” My fingernails dig into my palm as I regulate my breathing. “I don’t want to be here anymore. I want to go to the Other Place.” I wait in anticipation, dreading her response to my wish to leave. The place beyond this building and the hundreds around it used to be called the Outside, but when that word was scrapped from our vocabulary, the one word morphed into two, this time only being spoken in hushed whispers with backs towards the vigilant cameras that monitor every inch the world. My mother blinks a few times in surprise before leaping forward and sinking her long fingernails into my bony arm. I cry out in pain as she drags me out into the hallway in front of her “home”. She keeps her grip on my arm tight and firm and leans in so close that I can feel and smell her breath on my face. “How dare you! How dare you… how dare you wish to leave!” she whispers, eyes burning with rage. “After all They have done for you? After all I have done for you? There is no “escape” from here, there is only our grey clothes and grey food and these buildings. There is no “future” and no Outside, so stop filling your head with these immature ideas of-of freedom and independence!” I pull my arm out of her hold and cradle it with my other hand, staring at her with wide eyes. Sometime during her rant, her words had morphed from being spoken in a hushed whisper into a shout, spitting out each word with sharp venom and malice. The residents living alongside her opened their doors and peered into the beige hallway, shocked and frightened by the use of forbidden words and the over-emotional display of anger. My mother breathes in heavily before losing all colour in her face. She turns quickly to the camera only a few metres behind her, begging for some kind of forgiveness or mercy that she knows she won’t receive. She turns back to me, desperately clinging to my arm as the sounds of heavy boots begin to echo from the stairwell. My feet are frozen to the ground, my wide eyes locked with my mother’s teary ones. A person grabs me, dragging me away as They pull her from the spot she stood in and carry her down the hall. She screams, shouting nonsense and gibberish, squirming in the grasp of her captors but no one moves to help her. I take a moment to process the scene around me, the shouts slowly fading away and the concern on the face of a person in front of me. I brush away her concern and reenter my mother’s home. This flat with its dull walls and the dull view from the single window that provides little to no light in the cramped space doesn’t feel like a home to me. Her cabinets are filled with the bland oatmeal, freeze-dried meats and cans of soup every person in the buildings eat. There is no trace of life in this place, no joy or emotion. Isn’t that how they want you? Empty and malleable? I push away my thoughts, willing my brain to shut up. This is not a good time for thinking. The word rings in my brain. Thinking, thinking thinking. A word that describes a normal human instinct, forbidden from ever being spoken. I’m glad They haven’t invented mind-reading technology, otherwise I too would be dragged away kicking and screaming, taken to god knows where to suffer for my disobedience. I take a deep breath in and pick up my grey bag from the smooth concrete floor, looping it over my shoulder and beginning my trek home.
When I arrive on my floor, I look for a hint of normalcy. I don’t know what day it is, and my attempts to keep a calendar have all been futile, but there’s snow on the windowsill outside and some kind of joyous music plays from the elevator behind me. Christmas. It must be Christmas. When I walk to my room I spot a book laid at the foot of my door. It’s a dark blue, bound with a red ribbon around the centre. I guess it really is Christmas. I can’t help but feel some excitement. A gift, something someone gave to me! Me! My hands greedily snatch the book off the ground but the title sends a shiver down my spine. My shoulders drop back down in defeat as I hold the thin dictionary in my hands. I peer down the dim and beige hallway, noting the book in front of the doors of all of my neighbours as well. A sigh comes out of my mouth as I unlock the door, slowly flicking on the lights attached to the grey wall. I place the thin book on my kitchen counter and lie down carefully on the stiff and uncomfortable couch. My chest expands with a deep inhale and slowly deflates, my brain slowing down to a speed that I can process what just happened. My mum is gone, taken away by the same people who built this building and made my couch. The same people who wrote away the words and watch us every second without permission or resistance. The same people who stripped me of a life, of freedom and of choice. Hot anger rushes through my veins and I begin to make my way over to the book on the bench. My hands shakily reach for the single pen I have, clicking the tip in and out erratically. I turn to the first page and use the ink to trace over the words. I write until the first page is full and then I continue to the next. Freedom, thinking, diary, expression, love, joy my brain dictating, whispering all the forbidden words I can think of onto the pages under my pen. Outside, democracy, vote, choice, choose, control. My breathing gets faster and faster, page after page filling with words I don’t even remember learning. The cameras make squeaking noises as they zoom in and out, catching my rebellious behaviour for all of Them to see. A hysterical laugh builds inside my chest and escapes from my mouth loudly as the thin book becomes full with description and life. There are thumps at my door before it’s forced open, crashing onto the cold concrete floor. My feet pull my body towards the one window in the kitchen as people pour in with weapons, restraints and brute force. The book stays clutched in my hands as they pull and tug and drag me away from my position in the kitchen. I struggle, clawing at the hands and pushing away the people grabbing at me. I know that this is the end, and I can feel myself losing the ability to hold them off any longer. As I begin to be moved away I make one last attempt to break away. The weapons they have, guns and knives and batons all attack me with sickening cracks and bangs but I keep holding on for a second longer. Is this fight worth it? Why am I struggling when I could just give in? My brain is yelling at me to stop, but I know why I am doing this despite my imminent death, vision blurring and wounds streaming out blood. Freedom, I think as I throw the book out of the window and through the bars that I had spent months carefully moving. This is for freedom.
I find the book on the dead grass below one of the grey stone buildings that surround the garden. Only kids like me get to go outside, but it doesn’t feel like a luxury. The garden’s not much different from inside the boring and empty rooms. There’s dying grass and four small trees, one in each corner. The book must’ve fallen from a window and got stuck in the tree, my brain says. I try to read the cover, hoping it’s something more than the boring stories and stupid word-books I always have to read. But the thin book has the same words on the front as all the others and my hopes are dashed. Maybe there’s some paper I could use inside of it to fill my pillow? The pillows in my home are always cold and lumpy, so every time there’s a new word-book I fill the sack with the pages of the old ones. I open it and blink my eyes several times. The pages are littered with words I’ve never seen before, words that I couldn’t dream of creating. Freedom? A place that isn’t here? Freedom sounds nice, freedom sounds… free. My friends rush over as I show them my find, eagerly consuming every word written. The words “free” and “outside” entrance my mind. Outside? A place beyond the buildings? I “think” to myself for a second, looking at the tired faces my friends have and their bony fingers, hungry for even another scrap of food. No, my brain says, eyes darting to the cameras and towering grey walls trapping us. The cameras flick to me for a moment and I feel a cold tingle in my spine. The threat of what They do to others who say these kinds of words are too scary for me to think about. I rip the pages out of the book and shove them in my bag. There’s no escape from this place.