Whereas the Texas State PTA Reflections contest is now over, so I don't have to worry about getting in trouble—
Therefore, I have decided to post my short story that one an Award of Excellence (like 2nd-4th place) at the State Level for Writing! (Yeah, it's also a little bit to show off—humor me).
So, without further ado, here is my short story, "One," inspired by the theme, "Diversity Means...." Note that it is short because it is exactly ONE word under the limit imposed by the PTA. Enjoy.
The door at the bottom of Stairwell Three has a lock.
I reach for the almost antique sensor pad. How have they not noticed this one? Locks are not needed. Why would anyone keep a secret from themselves?
The palm of my hand touches the cool metal. It doesn’t move. Doesn’t respond. But the words jar up the bones in my arm, up my elbow to my shoulder to my brain.
I should report this. The Maker will want to know. A lock where no lock has the right to be. We have no secrets in the Facility. The place where we create Oneness.
But the building is not One.
I file the report quickly, lighting the inside of my eyelids with red streaks of discomfort. Disunity. The report is received at once. I should go. My job is done.
But my eyes drift back to the door. The handle is retracted into the steel frame, a handle that will not relinquish its secrets without a fight. The sleek metal door is marred only by the small scanner, the small square plate with a single word etched across the top in small, perfect lettering.
“Do you have a dictionary?”
Cassidy looks up from the floor, startled by the question. “A dictionary?”
I sit down next to her, moving a stack of discs to do so. “I need to look up a word.”
She blinks once. Twice. “Something wrong with your eyelids, dufus?”
The smile at my nickname cannot be held back. I lean forward, brush back her black hair with one hand to whisper in her ear. “It’s not in the database.”
There is no need for caution. It doesn’t matter who hears—we’re all the same. Nothing can change that. We are all friends. All allies.
So I can tell, when Cas responds in an equally secretive whisper, that she’s mocking me. “Then it won’t be in the dictionary either, idiot. That’s where they build the database from.”
“I just need to check. Maybe they left it out.”
Her grey eyes soften. “Dylan. They didn’t leave it out. It’s probably not even a real word.”
I shake my head. That’s not it. No one would carve a fake word onto the only locked door in the Facility. But I drop it. Rifle through one stack of the shiny golden discs. “Any progress?”
The small girl swipes the top one from my stack. “I think I finally cracked the case of John 53428. He had a favorite color.”
“Really?” My eyebrows shoot upwards, disappearing into my black hair. “What was it?”
She thought for a moment, closed her eyes. “Almost a teal. But a little lighter. Do they have a name for that?”
I make a grab for the disc. “Let me see.”
Cassidy holds it up to her chest. “No. Get your own.”
“I want to see his color.” I grab her arm, lean close. “Please?”
Cassidy giggles. “Since you asked nicely.” Then she leans forward to kiss me.
Behind closed eyes, the flash of red astonishes me. “John 14683. Report to Maker.”
Cas breaks from me, looking ashamed. It is rare for a message to be private, but it’s obvious that that one was. And that she overheard it.
I touch her wrist as she stands. “Don’t worry. I’ll be back soon.”
I start to walk out of the grey room. “Dylan?”
Turning, I can’t help smiling at her bright eyes. Her soft face. “What was the word?” she asks.
It takes a moment for me to remember. “Diversity,” I tell her at last.
We were not supposed to have names.
Names were deemed useless after the Unism. After the Declaration of Oneness. At the same time that hair became black and eyes became grey, names became obsolete. Everyone was John and Jane. All we had to identify ourselves was a number.
But when you work in the Facility, you learn things. How to Unify minds. How to make them One. And what makes them so not One. Things change.
When I met Jane 54092, she was just another Jane. The only difference between us was that she was a girl and I was not, the one distinction the Maker made.
I don’t remember when it was that she started becoming so much more.
The Maker’s door is just like the rest of ours—plain, grey steel with a riveted outline. There is no lock on his door.
The man’s grey eyes light when I walk in. “John.” The name is said with pride, as if it is inherently mine. “So nice to see you. Please, sit.”
The room smells sweet. Sickly. I sit in the plush chair, wriggling to get comfortable.
Lines crinkle around the Maker’s eyes as he sits opposite the desk, his face becoming serious. “I got your message, John. But I’d just like to review the details.”
“Do you know what diversity is?” I ask the question before I should. It is a break from the expected—we are polite. Never rude. Never interrupting.
“I’m sorry,” I say immediately. “I was distracted. I don’t know—”
The Maker waves away my apology, not entirely immune to interruptions himself. “Diversity?” he asks. The word sounds foreign on his tongue.
“What does it mean?” I can’t help the softness that laces my voice. The eagerness.
He sits back. “There used to be so many differences. Eye color. Hair color. Short people. Tall people. Different skin colors. Different colors, can you imagine?” The Maker sighs, shaking his head. “But now, when all we know is Oneness, there is no need for distinction. That’s what diversity was, John—distinction.”
The Maker shakes his head, still talking. “Once, people believed there was another Maker. A far better Maker than I, John. Far better. This Maker created the differences in people, wanted people to love and cherish them. That’s what diversity used to be. Freedom.” He closed his eyes, his wrinkles growing more pronounced. “So long ago.”
There is silence for a moment. Then, the Maker opens his eyes again, looks at me. “We sent a squad down to the bottom of Stairwell Three. They did not find a door.”
“They—” I am stunned into silence. “They didn’t find anything?”
“Just a brick wall. No door.” The Maker leans forward, props his head on his hands so that he can inspect me. “And yet, when I got your message, I could see the door. Clear as day. How is this possible?”
I shake my head. “I don’t know, sir.” I cringe. Maybe he didn’t notice the title.
But his eyes narrow, and his jaws tighten. He did notice. “I have a theory,” he says, his voice slow and purposeful. I don’t say anything.
After a pause, the Maker continues. “I think, John, that you might not be quite One.”
You’re right, I want to say. My name isn’t John. It’s Dylan. And I am not One.
But I don’t say this. Instead, I hear my own voice. “What do you mean?”
“You seem to be almost…independent.” His voice hovers over the word, covers it with slime and disgust. An insult. “But that’s to be expected. It takes a special person to see a special door.”
The room suddenly seems very small. I am going to have to get out of here. “I don’t know what you mean, Maker.”
The man sits back at this, the correct way to speak. The One way. “Quite right. Off you go, then.”
His grey eyes don’t leave the back of my skull until the door slides shut behind me.
It was Cassidy who picked the names. Her voice was lighter back then, light and full of excitement. “I’ll be Cassidy,” she said, cheery. “And you’ll be Dylan. I like that name. It’s cute.”
I raise my eyebrows, and she giggles. “Cute name for a cute guy.” She reaches for my hand, the way she used to before her mother disappeared. “We’ll be the only two people in the world with real names. Isn’t that great?” Her bright eyes stared at mine, filling them with light and wonder.
Now, as I storm into her room, she looks at me with that same bright intensity. This time, though, she knows that something is wrong. “What happened?”
“He knows.” I grab a stack of the discs, move them to the closet. “He knows about me. The door must have been a set up.”
Cas starts to move the discs with me. I keep talking. “I don’t know if he knows about you, too, but you have to hide. I’ll keep the discs safe, but you’ve gotta—“.
“Dylan.” She says my name calmly. Coolly. “I’m not going anywhere.”
I stop. “You have to. You have to get out.”
“No. I’m staying with you. The only way out is through that door.”
I try to shake my head, but lose grip of my stack of discs. They scatter around the room. “The door was a fake. The discs are important, you’ve gotta keep working.”
“No, Dylan. The door’s the way out. We can leave. We’re different enough to do it. We’re diverse enough to open the door.”
My hand pauses on one golden disc. There is a short, endless silence. “How did you know what it meant?”
“What?” Cassidy sounds distracted, but I hear the drop in her voice.
“Diversity. How did you know what it meant? How do you know what’s through that door?” My voice is rising at pitch, and I realize I am standing over her.
“Because I put it there!” she yells. “I put it there, and that’s why they took my mother. I found a way out of here. I found a way where we could be ourselves.”
“Then why didn’t we go? Why didn’t you tell me? I could have come with you.” I try not to let the pain infiltrate my voice.
Cassidy doesn’t do the same. Grief fills the gaps between her words. “In a world full of options, would you really have picked me? Diversity means freedom, Dylan. What if you didn’t choose me?”
I step forward. Grab her hand, gently. “I will always want you. I don’t care how many choices I have.”
When Cassidy looks at me again, there are tears in her eyes.
“Now come on. We have a door to find.”
The door waits for us at the bottom of the Stairwell. Just like Cas said it would.
“It would only show itself to someone with a real name. That’s why I gave us both names. So that we could leave someday.” Cassidy’s hand is shaking in mine.
“So what do we do?”
She grins. “What do you think?”
Together, we place our palms on the small square scanner. Finally, a green light. New words jar up my arm, through our joined hands into my mind.
The doorknob slides out of the frame, ready to turn.
“What’s out there?” I ask. My voice shakes as much as her hand.
The smile stays on her face. “Let’s find out.”
The smile is still on her face when Cassidy shudders and collapses into me. A knife sticks out of her back.
“Freedom’s what’s out there, Dylan.” The Maker stands at the top of the staircase, his grey eyes livid. “But freedom comes at a price.”
Her hand has stopped shaking. Her eyes are glassy. Her face locked in a perpetual smile.
“You killed her.”
“That’s what happens to people who interfere. That’s what happened to her mother. Now her. Do you want to be next, Dylan?”
I meet his eyes, see myself reflected in his grey pools. See my own eyes, blue with sadness and rage and grief.
Blue. Almost a teal, but a little lighter.
“No,” I tell him. “I don’t want to be next. I want to be free.”
With Cassidy in my arms, I turn and run through the open door. Into freedom.