Note: This is a short story I had to write for school to imitate the writing style of Ray Bradbury
As far back as I can remember there have always been the words. I can see them in my mind’s eye, the small black letters showcased beneath my pale skin, unashamed of their existence. I carry them with me always, for we are one, the words and I. Others see them and gawk, their beady little eyes glaring down with indignation at the tiny ideas and beliefs flowing so freely inside me. Words can change people, they warn me. Words are dangerous. Hide them, cover them, pretend they are not there. I am a malfunction: something the government did not intend to happen. I often wonder if there are more like me out there, although it’s best not to get my hopes up.
I read enough to know that the world was different, once upon a time. Then, around the 2080s, a massive epidemic broke out. It hit all the major cities first -New York, Hong Kong, London- and spread like wildfire to everywhere else through airline transportation. The world was declared to be in a state of Global Panic. People were dying. Order was collapsing. The United States government, in a last-ditch attempt to save mankind, invested all remaining money in funding Nanotechnology. The result: nanobots – microscopic robots injected into the bloodstream that help the body build a virtually indestructible immune system. On the molecular level, they target and kill diseases before they even pose a threat. All survivors were given the injection, and within a few months the virus had been entirely wiped out.
I am one of the very few who suspects a second directive was given to the nanobots. No more than a decade later, the government began to see this new technology as a way of reinforcing law and order, which at that point was out of control. The world needed rebuilding, its inhabitants forced into a state of collective thinking. And so they also programmed the nanobots to send messages to the brain that hinder the production of dopamine, a chemical that, when released, rewards pleasurable behavior, and to sequester regions of the brain that control creative thought and dreams.
I think the writing on my arms, diagnosed as a rare and serious “mutation” of the skin, appears because my desires to think and create are so strong that they have unconsciously overridden the commands of the nanobots and manifested themselves on my body. I’m interrogated constantly but don’t seem to be much of a threat, so the Officers have settled for covering the words up and ignoring them. I’m convinced they aren’t aware of my ability to mentally suppress the nanobots. No one knows – not even the “family members” in my assigned living quarters. I intend to take the secret to my grave, if I can manage that.
I walk out of my house onto the road, heading for school. Even after all these years, the vision of the outside world still comes as a shock. The uniformed, miserable workers in their equally grey and miserable suits march in a military line to and from work everyday, crowding the streets, rushing by in a hurry on their way to nowhere. A briefcase hangs on each hand, a permanent grimace on each beaten-down and weathered face. A plain checkered tie, so strongly resembling a noose, fits around every neck.
I clutch my books to my chest and look at the ground as I walk, my eyes unwilling to meet this horrific scene before me. School is, mercifully, only a few blocks away. I enter the doors and breathe a sigh of relief. Language Arts class is first period. I’m there in the blink of an eye, my enthusiasm to learn driving me there with urgency.
It’s so hard to hide the fact that I love being here. The room smells faintly of coffee and fresh rain, and a warmth hangs pleasantly in the air that evokes strong memories of nights spent by a roaring fireplace immersed in a good novel. Inspirational posters cover the walls alongside various Shakespeare quotes and vocabulary terms. It is not at all a bad place to be on a Tuesday morning. I sit at my desk and gather myself into my favorite position: my cheek resting neatly on my left hand and my right grasping a book. Class begins. The world outside the window is bleak and gloomy as it always is, the world inside it soft and glowing. I sigh. Nothing is out of the ordinary, not today.
I feel suffocated. This happens sometimes, nothing to worry about. I clear my throat and flex my fingers as my skin grows tight with the words, all cramming themselves against each other and pushing against the walls I’ve only half-heartedly built to hold them back. I’m uncomfortable now. They are unusually loud today, screaming to be heard, begging me to set them free. It’s painful, and my temples start throbbing. Boom! Boom! Boom! Each cry is a blow to my head. I’m clenching my fists so much that my nails have begun to dig into my skin, drawing blood. They’re banging against my skull. The walls are coming down. Boom! Boom! Boom! I can’t take it anymore… I can’t…
My head feels as if it’s been ripped open. Light comes flooding in and I’m immediately blinded. My eyes can’t focus in on anything except an intense whiteness. A thousand watts of electricity jolt through me, awakening every sense and emotion in my body until I’m feeling everything, absolutely everything, all at once.
A sudden rage I’ve never experienced before comes screaming out from some dark place inside me: an extreme anger directed towards the leering figures with the watchful eyes, who took my words and tried to lock them away, shoving them into the far reaches of my mind in the hopes that I would not pursue them there. I flash back to a conversation I had with a friend a few years ago, a conversation I had long since blocked from memory until now.
* * *
We were walking together in the hallway. My sweater had rolled up slightly, exposing my wrist. I shoved it back down, but too late. She had already seen.
“What are those?”
“Nothing,” I said automatically. “Words. Don’t mind them, don’t tell. They’re not bothering anybody.” If she told, they see how there were more of them, more coming each and every day, crowding my skin instead of fading from it as they would if I shut them out completely.
She eyed me cautiously. “They’re awfully ugly. I’d have them surgically erased if I were you. It’s quite inexpensive these days.”
I had never been so deeply offended. The words, blessings in my eyes, were obscene in hers. I felt them sway inside me, trembling.
“When was the last time you were happy?” I asked abruptly, a quiet fury in my voice as I turned the conversation in a dangerous direction. “And I don’t mean a time when you got a birthday present or a weekly pay of allowance, I mean a time you were really happy.” Her eyebrows rose. The question perplexed her. “Have you ever experienced a moment in your whole life when you were so filled to the brim with passion and inspiration that you felt you could open yourself up, and the light that flowed out of you could fill the world?” Of course not,” she breathed, her chest heaving rapidly and genuine fear in her eyes.
“I have. All the time, in fact. And the Officers tell me to stop, but I can’t. I’ve tasted happiness and now I crave it constantly. I think I’ve discovered something amazing, revolutionary even. These words here,” I yanked my shirtsleeve up. “They’re called dreams.” Her eyes grew wide. “What are dreams?” The question slipped out before she could stop herself.
I consider this for a moment, never having given them a formal definition before. I find that I don’t have one to offer. “All I can say is that with them… I think it’s possible to change the world.” Now I know I’ve gone too far. The very suggestion -even the slightest hint- that the government can or should be altered is treason and punishable by death. I clamped my hand over my mouth in horror, and not knowing what else to do turned and ran, leaving her speechless behind me. We weren’t friends anymore from that day on, but there were many times I turned around and found her eyes staring into mine with a blazing curiosity from across a crowded room, terrified but intrigued by the girl with the dreams.
* * *
I begin to notice the words swirling in circles around me, drawn to me from out in the universe as if by some magnetic force. I hold them elevated in time and space with my very presence, and they rotate around me as if I am the sun and they are my planets. Suddenly I am not so afraid to use them anymore. I turn to the girl next to me, staring off into space with blank, vacant eyes.
“I’m going to be writer,” I tell her excitedly, believing for a foolish and hopeful second that someone in the world actually cares about my life-changing epiphany.
She looks at me as if I am insane, and then goes back to watching the wall like I haven’t said a thing. I don’t care. I’m so happy I could smile warmly at her ignorance and kiss her on both cheeks for listening.
The bell rings, and my heart is light as a feather. I greet everyone who passes by with a joyous grin and a friendly hello, the words inside me playing with the thought, Writer, Writer, I’m going to be a writer. My ears perk up as I hear my name called over the school speaker. I’m to report to the nurse’s office. That’s odd. I don’t recall ever turning in a request for an examination.
I’m so jubilant and thrilled right now that this doesn’t really bother me, though I do feel some stirrings of unease in the pit of my stomach. It’s probably just another interrogation. More questions, more probing, more lies on my part. (“Yes, of course I’m trying to stop, Officer!”) But when I step into the office, it’s not the usual men in steel suits who greet me, but a doctor and a handful of government officials wearing black shades and holding out identification cards with the letters F.B.I. stamped onto them.
“Is this the child exhibiting the… behavior?” One of the men asks. His voice is deep and unfeeling. “Yes,” says a woman somewhere behind me. My arm is grabbed and I’m shoved down onto a chair, where the doctor jabs me with a needle to draw some blood. He gathers enough to fill a small vial and then plugs it into a slot on the small machine he’s holding in his hand. It immediately starts beeping. “Oh, she’s positive all right,” he says grimly. My heart is racing. Something is very wrong. Instinct tells me to run but a lifetime of obedience keeps me in that chair, petrified, unable to move.
The government officials grab my wrists and my shoulders, holding me down. I start struggling now, kicking and screaming and raking my nails across every bit of flesh that comes into my line of sight. It’s no use. I know the syringe is coming before I see it, and in the last few seconds before it enters my skin I close my eyes and accept my fate. My last independent thought dies on my lips. I’m going to be a writer. My head is going fuzzy, my vision clouding over. Oh God, not this. Writer, writer. Please, not this. I’m going to be a writer. I’m slipping away. It’s not fair, it’s not right. I’m going to be… to be…
I am sitting in a chair in a crowded room. A man hovers over me, checking my pulse. “She’s good to go,” he says. I look down at my arm and catch a few black words fading from my skin before they disappear entirely. I feel sad for a moment, but then the foreign emotion is gone. There was something important attached to those words, but now I can’t remember why they were there. It doesn’t matter. They slip carelessly from my mind.
“You can go now,” the doctor repeats.
It is time to return to the learning center and resume my studies.
I stand up robotically and walk stiffly out the door. As I’m pulling the doorknob shut I hear the doctor say, “She should be one of the last of them. We’re slowly weeding her kind out: the rebels, the troublemakers, the disrupters of the system. Within a few months this minor setback will be corrected, and we shall finally have peace.”
A tiny voice in my mind wonders who the “she” is that they are talking about. Then I feel a sort of small zap in my brain and it vanishes entirely.