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“I worship individuals for their highest possibilities as individuals, and I loathe humanity for its failure to live up to these possibilities.”
It was the strangest thing she had ever seen: a chest full of oddities that washed up on the northern shore of Ayva Island. The girl who found it had no name, only a number like everyone else: 1528. She was sixteen years old and, in her first act of teenage rebellion, ventured to the northern coastline where no citizen was permitted to go. Thus began her story.
The chest was half buried in the soft sand, foamy waves lapped around it again and again, drawing it further into the earth. The rusty lock had become so brittle with age that 1528 was able to break it with a few tugs. Inside were hundreds of small squares too stiff to be cloth and too malleable to be wood. There was a long stick made of some black substance that stained her fingers when she touched it. When she dragged it across the square, it made a single black line.
She dropped the stick in fright. Nervous sweat walked down her freckled face, turning cold in the night breeze. As she stooped to pick it up, she wondered how such a thing could exist.
At the bottom of the chest, she found a book made of the same material as the squares; it was filled with black lines that replicated objects found in nature. There were pictures of trees, animals and frightening machines she had never seen before.
There was a seagull floating above her head, carried by the wind. Her fingers trembling, 1528 dragged the stick all across one of the squares. It was difficult, but she crudely replicated the bird’s image. When she was done, she felt a thrill like no other. She had taken a bird from the sky and placed it within the gentle cage of the square tablet.
1528 was unfamiliar with this kind of happiness; the thrill of creation brought her an indefinable joy that made her legs quiver. She had to tell everyone about her discovery – especially those who regulated all society on the island: The Planners.
Ayva Island was nestled within a vacuous blue bay where the weather was warm all year round. Ayva Islanders worked hard to build what The Planners called a “Society”. According to them, the world was visited by a terrible disaster many years ago called the Great Calamity. They told stories about flying machines and atomic fire so hot that it could incinerate cities and melt flesh from bone.
After the Great Calamity, The Planners rescued all the children they could find and took them to Ayva Island to re-construct human civilization – at their discretion of course. No one on Ayva was above the age of nineteen. 1528 spent her days building crude huts from mud a wood: new houses for her fellow citizens.
Everyone worked the same hours at the same times on the same days, there was never any deviation. 1528 was roused from bed by the morning bells, summoned to her mid-day meal by the afternoon bell and sent to sleep by the evening bell.
Everyone wore the same gray robes; The Planners said they helped foster equality and communal responsibility. A girl called 1647 stained her robes red with berries once. The Planners took her away the next day.
“Why don’t you ask The Planners what happened to 1647?” asked a young male known as 1530.
“The Planners don’t like to be asked questions,” said 1528.
1530 was a small creature with a lean frame and pale face. Even his eyes lacked impact; they were weak and superficial, like they were only painted on his face. He fell sick often and collapsed during periods of exertion, exertions that even a female like 1528 was capable of handling.
Even so, 1530 was the boy 1528 was ordered to marry and copulate with when the time was right. That was why everyone built huts day in and day out; each one would house a single man and woman when the season of mating came.
When 1528 first turned sixteen, she was brought before The Planners and put into a spotlight. They disrobed her and scrutinized her body with disgusting efficiency. 1528 was a short girl with narrow hips and small breasts – qualities that led The Planners to doubt her fertility and, subsequently, her usefulness as a woman. With the crack of a gavel, they ordered her to mate with 1530 on her eighteenth birthday.
1528 sighed and dragged her fingers through her thick and tangled brown hair. She didn’t hate her future husband, but she certainly didn’t feel the spark of passion when she looked at him. He was soft spoken and timid. When he fell sick she had to take care of him until he got better.
1528 was getting older. She felt different than she did as a child; she felt a warm thrill when she looked at specific boys on the island. She didn’t feel any thrill when she looked at 1530. But The Planners discouraged girls from flirting with boys based on their physical appearances; it was seen as selfish and unfair.
The soft mud oozed between 1528’s toes as she rounded the last hour of her work day. The hut she and her team were building was almost complete.
“1530, bring me the last log,” she said.
1530 attempted to lift said log but its weight overwhelmed him. 1528 saved him from falling over.
“Thank you,” he said, exhausted.
“What would you do without me?” she asked playfully.
A bell in the distance rang out, signaling the end of the work day. During sunset, everyone was permitted two hours of social time before the evening bell rang. 1528 didn’t like social time; she often snuck away from it to explore the island. This was how she made her fantastic discovery on the shore.
“Uh, um, are you coming to social time?” 1530 asked.
“Not today, think I’ll slip away again. You’ll cover for me won’t you?”
1530 anxiously hugged himself. “I-I guess, but if you keep sneaking away you’re going to get in trouble.”
1528 couldn’t wait a second longer, she needed to draw another picture, she needed her fix. “I’ll only be a couple of hours. Please?”
“Well … okay, but - ”
1528 disappeared into the foliage.
A blazing orb of fire sat upon the watery horizon, turning the northern shore gold.
1528 sat upon the big chest and drew picture after picture. Every time she completed one, she felt a jolt of some indescribable passion. It was the happy satisfaction of creating something on her own. She felt powerful and alive.
“I want to draw more,” she said to herself. “I want to draw everything I see. Every tree, every bird, everything!”
She found herself running up and down the beach looking for inspiration. She tripped and fell over, creating a cloud of sand. From the ground, she saw the clouds sailing across the darkening sky; hanging so low she thought she could reach out and touch them.
It was at that moment she realized she didn’t have to draw what she saw; she could draw from her own imagination. She could draw what she saw in her mind, she could will her own ideas into existence.
There were hundreds of small squares stuffed inside the chest – she needed them all.
1528 came to work the next day with dark circles under her eyes and a warm river a drool running down her chin. Fatigue weighed her body down.
1530 took notice immediately. “Where have you been? I-I was worried, I didn’t see you in your bed last night.”
“How did you know I wasn’t in bed? … Did you sneak into the girl’s dormitory?!”
1530 opened his mouth but no words came out. 1528 put her fist across his face, sending him flying across the dirt like a rock skipping across a pond.
“It’s not what you think!” he said upon recovering, “I just - sometimes, I want to talk to you more … that’s all.”
1528 had been struggling with her discovery for days now, she wondered if discussing it with someone else would help her understand it.
“I want you to meet me on the beach tonight,” she said brazenly.
1530 got the wrong idea and turned red with embarrassment. 1528 smacked him lightly across the face. “Stop being such a pervert. It’s not what you’re thinking.”
“Oh, uh, sorry.”
“Wait until after the evening bells and then sneak out of the dorms.”
“Meet me on the northern shore.”
“And one more thing.”
“Catch me before I pass out.”
The next night was blessed with a warm breeze that tickled the senses.
With a slack jaw, 1530 stared into the wooden chest 1528 had found. He removed two hollowed-out objects made of stiff leather; each one was about the size of a person’s foot. He dared to put them on. When he walked, the rocks didn’t hurt him.
“Where did all this come from?!” he exclaimed.
“I found that chest stuck in the sand a few days ago,” said 1528 while furiously sketching a new picture.
1530 tried his hand drawing a seagull per his future wife’s request but it wasn’t nearly as good as 1528’s. Even so, the joy of creation gripped his features.
“How does it feel?” she asked him.
“I don’t know how to describe it, but it feels great!”
1528 deduced that the chest came from the world before Ayva Island - before the Great Calamity. She found something to confirm this: a hauntingly realistic picture of people frozen in time, smiling and wearing fancy clothing with lots of colors. Behind them, mammoth buildings rose into the sky like mountains.
It was these buildings that stirred 1528’s imagination. The idea that humans like her could construct such large buildings opened up a million possibilities. Perhaps she, with her stick and paper, could lay the plans for the same buildings.
She began drawing a new picture immediately. “I want to show all this to The Planners right away.”
“I don’t know about that, The Planners forbid us from visiting the northern shore.”
The rulers of Ayva Island were a very few and very strict entourage, they lived in the solitude of a cave that was sealed off by a waterfall. They managed all of Ayva Island’s affairs with mechanical efficiency, like the tiniest of cogs controlling a massive leviathan.
They spoke often about the world before the Great Calamity. They called it violent and selfish – virtues that led to its inevitable destruction and re-birth as the paradise 1528 lived in now. They also forbid anyone from exploring the northern shore, which presented a bit of a problem for 1528.
“No matter,” she said, “I’ll tell them I found everything in the uncharted forest. They never come out of the caves, how would they know if I’m lying? Get over here and tell me what you think of this.”
1528 opened her drawing across the sand and used rocks to anchor the corners.
“What is it?”
“A big hut - like the ones we saw in that colorful picture.” She pointed to all the lines indicating floors and walls, “Why do we have to build individual huts when we can build them all together in one big structure?”
“Like … stacking them on top of each other?”
“More or less, but we have to be very careful, all the wood has to be cut a certain size. See these black lines? We can reinforce the walls with two layers of wood to help keep the rain out. And we can cut holes in the walls so people can look outside. This is going to change everything on Ayva Island!”
Far from being enthusiastic, 1530 hesitated. “I don’t know … The Planners don’t like it when we do things on our own. Remember 1647?”
“They also tell us to dedicate our lives to others. If we could build what I drew here, we’d be doing just that – helping others and improving society.”
1528 rolled up her masterpiece with electrified fingers and jumped to her feet. “Brace yourself, you’re about to marry a heroine.”
On her way to see The Planners, 1528 made sure to flaunt her design to everyone she saw. They all responded with incredulous awe.
“My wife loves to look at the ocean,” said 1397 upon seeing the picture, “She would love to live in a hut like this one. It has holes so she can look outside.”
1329 lived in a single hut with a wife who had bore him an unexpected three children at once. “I sure wish you built our hut like this one. With three kids, I need all the space I can get. Multiple floors would be convenient.”
The journey to the waterfall where The Planners lived was a long and hot one but it gave 1528 and her future husband a lot of time to talk.
“See how they reacted? They love me! They think I’m a genius!” said 1528, fluffing her hair in vain manner.
1530 quietly trailed behind her with a slouched back, his features heavy with apprehension.
“You dead back there, hubby? Say something.”
Under the shadow of tall cliffs, a sparkling waterfall dropped from the heavens and crashed into a pond, spewing a cold cloud of white mist into the air. 1528 scaled a slippery boulder in front of the waterfall.
“All right, made it. 1530! Get your lazy butt up here!”
1528 and 1530 stood before a wall of rushing water.
“How exactly are we supposed to get past this?” 1530 asked. “Are we supposed to knock or something?”
“There’s got to be a secret lever or … a magic word or something. Open! uh, Part! Water, go away!"
A wooden door suddenly swung up from behind the waterfall and split it in half. A less than inviting black hole leading into the cave presented itself.
After a bout of trepidation, 1528 and 1530 walked inside. A dark and twisting tunnel led them into the heart of the cave where the Planners dwelled. The ceiling had collapsed long ago creating a spacious and natural arena that let sunlight and greenery in.
The Planners were there hovering over tables made of fallen rocks and discussing with each other the challenges of governance. They were much older than 1528, each one had a head of white hair and a face like cracked leather; she couldn’t drum up the courage to even look at them.
Crude banners decorated the cave walls. One read:
“Altruism is the source of all goodness. Individualism is the source of all wickedness.”
“Equality above all else.”
“Surrender not to personal desire.”
Towards the back, an old woman sat like a statue. A thin trickle of sparkling water streamed down the wall behind her, darkening the rock it traveled. She had longhair that grew against the folds of her body like vines, tethering her in place like moss covering a rock. Her piercing green eyes were striking and full of vitality but the rest of her pale body looked as a corpse would.
“I know this is unexpected,” 1528 began with fidgeting hands, “but I’ve found something you should know about. It washed up – er, I found it in the uncharted forest yesterday; I think it came from the world before the Great Calamity.”
All the Planners encroached upon 1528 with murmurs on their lips.
The green-eyed woman spoke with a stern but feminine tone. “The world that existed before Ayva Island should not be discussed. It was an evil world that destroyed itself and the reason we Planners gave you Ayva Island to live on.”
“I know that,” said 1528 quickly and to the point. From her robes she produced her drawing and showed it to the woman. She looked upon it with blasé disinterest.
“… Did you draw this, my dear?”
“What is it?”
“A big hut, bigger than the ones we’re building now. It’s got two roofs instead of one, and windows so you can see outside. We can start building them right away, I’ve made all the measurements - ”
“No,” said the woman suddenly.
“Your hearing is worse than mine, my dear, and you’re one-third my age. I said no.”
1528 could count on no help from her pathetic future husband who stood mute in a corner trying to hide in plain sight.
“Listen to me, if I drag this stick across something, it makes lines, isn’t that amazing? And everyone can do it, they can create anything they want.”
“That,” the woman said while stabbing a finger, “Is exactly what destroyed the world we live in: everyone creating what they want. Do you know what creation leads to? Machines that can kill millions. Want to know what thinking leads to? Things like innovation and capitalism. The world would be a much better place without people ‘creating’ things.”
“Your place in society as a woman is to have children live your life in the service of others – not waste time on your own pursuits. Individual desire is wicked and Ayva Island will have none of it. Now please come to your senses, you’re scaring poor 1530 with all this nonsense.”
The cave was so quiet 1528 could hear her ragged breathing echo off the rock. She came expecting praise and encouragement, not scorn.
“I … I drew this picture to help everyone,” she said weakly. “When I drew this I felt so happy. I want everyone to feel that way. And if we can improve the island with everyone’s ideas - “
“I and the rest of The Planners will improve Ayva Island, not you. Ordinary people can’t be trusted with such a task.”
“I can!” 1528 said. “Just give me one chance to build what you see in this picture!”
The veins rippling beneath the old woman’s face contorted and her hair seemed to twist around on its own with anger. “1528! Do not make me repeat myself. You are an average woman in a society of average people, nothing more. Now, I’m going to destroy this chest you have found and end this discussion. Please do not misunderstand me, I’m not angry with you, just the evil influence you have fallen under. Where is it?”
1530, like the weak-willed mouse that he was, betrayed 1528 immediately, blurting out the truth like he had been waiting to expel a cough. Her world was crashing down around her, The Planners were going to destroy the one pleasure she had found in life.
1528 tore her picture in half, she’d rather destroy it herself than let The Planners do it. Like a tornado she plowed her way towards the exit, shoving people like they were tree branches.
“My desires are wicked?!” She found the notion so ridiculous she had to shout it to the heavens so they could agree. “Fools – all of you! You don’t care about our well-being at all; you think we’re your slaves. You sit alone in this cave all day preaching equality, but I’ve got news for you: I’m not equal; I have a skill that makes me better than you. I’m not a slave.”
1528 left the cave in a fury of righteous anger. When she reached the outside she slipped and crashed into the pond water, washing up on dry ground like a leaf. There, the truth painfully sunk into her. She would never draw again.
1528 didn’t speak at all. She performed her daily tasks with all the enthusiasm of a tree. Even after all of 1530’s apologies she refused to talk to him. She grew old enough to be married but she didn’t say a word during the ceremony.
Even during her wedding night when she became a woman, even as 1530 whispered “I love you,” for the first time, she didn’t utter a syllable.
1528 managed to save the photo of the world before Ayva. She watched the people it contained intently, at their brilliant smiles.
“The Planners say you’re evil,” she said to the picture, “But you’re smiling.” She began to cry. “Why can’t I smile?”
Thunder streaked across the sky as she tore the photo up. Raindrops exploded against the dirt, turning it into mud. Her legs carried her to a cliff overlooking the churning ocean waters. Her robes fluttered in the stormy winds.
What kind of life would she have led if she were born before the Great Calamity? Even though it was only a photo, it had shown her so much. She had seen a world full of gifted minds like her, unrestrained by the petty needs of the masses, eager and full of beautiful ambition.
1528 could no longer live under the control of The Planners. Enlightened enough to see the cold and hollow life she was living, she took that life and threw it over the cliff.
1530 visited the cave of The Planners unannounced. Some time had passed since 1528’s death but not enough to ease his guilty heart.
“You approach me so boldly,” said the green-eyed woman. “Well, go ahead. Say what you came here to say.”
1530 crossed his arms and arched his back, exposing his full height to her. “I’m speaking for the entire population of Ayva Island. We’re in a state of rebellion against you.”
All conversation within the cave stopped. 1530 had saved the best for last: “We’re moving to the northern shore to build a new society.”
The old woman stared at him as would a child witnessing lighting for the first time. “Y-you … when you told me where the chest from older times was – after you saw me destroy it, you saved its contents!”
1530 displayed a picture of a building just like the one his wife had drawn. “I did, and I gave it to everyone. You should see us now; we’re all creating whatever we want.”
“You had this all planned from the start!”
“My wife was the prime mover who started it all. She was amazing, wasn’t she? Don’t be upset, I never wanted her to kill herself. So I guess you won in the end.”
“You alone can’t lead everyone on Ayva Island away from us!”
“I’m not, they’re leading themselves. … Good bye, ma’am.”
“Aaargh!” The green-eyed woman wailed like a child as 1530 made his exit. “Fine, walk away from me! Damn that bitch 1528, she ruined everything! I hope you peons don’t suffer from the want of our leadership for long!”
The soft sand of the northern shore swallowed 1530’s feet. A week had passed since the rebellion but the people of Ayva Island maintained the same vigor and enthusiasm they had when they first declared independence. Every so often The Planners would slink over and beg everyone to return. No one did.
One night, 1530 and the others were awoken by an ethereal rumble, like that of thunder. Strange men with lights in their hands swarmed the northern shore like ants. Above them, machines that stupefied the mind hovered in mid-air. Terror coursed through 1530’s body as a tall man in armored clothing approached him.
“Don’t be scared, son. My name is Staff Sergeant Bernie Malone – United States Marine Corps.”
1530 fell to the ground and shivered, his throat swelled shut.
“Stay calm, I won’t hurt you,” said Malone. He knelt down and patted 1530’s knee in a loving manner. “22 years ago, an activist by the name of Audrey Donato orchestrated the kidnapping of nearly 200 infants from hospitals all over the country. We always figured she would try to test her ideology on one of these deserted islands. Good thing you came to the northern shoreline, we wouldn’t have been able to spot you otherwise.”
Everyone on Ayva Island was passively collected and placed into strange buildings that floated upon the water.
The sergeant slowly took a seat with 1530 and studied his face. “… There was no Great Calamity. The world hasn’t changed a bit. Well, gas prices are higher but everything else is the same.” He spared a glance at the kids, at their dirt-stained faces and feeble bodies. “It’s over now. Everyone is okay.”
1530’s hand gripped the sand tightly. Memories of 1528’s face forced their way into his head. “No. Everyone’s not okay.”
-Thank you for reading-
micheledutcher - Harris Tobias wrote: The characters are a bit wooden by I like the sentiment behind the story. You can't stop the creative impulse in human beings and a dictatorial utopia is bound to fail. Your scenes are well crafted and the themes discussed are lofty and worthy of further investigation.
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