Friday, September 24, 2010

two feet of stone

“Tell me, Romeo,” she says through the hole. “Is it customary for that side to eat fish?”
“Raw, cooked, burnt. Take your pick.”
“We have it in sushi. An Asian food. It’s basically rice and other stuff in a little roll, wrapped in seaweed. Sometime fish is in it. Don’t you have fish?”
“Not lately. People who eat fish get sick. I think it’s the pollution. Sushi sounds interesting. Does it taste more like fish or more like rice?”
“Um, well, only sometimes it has fish. Sometimes it’s other things, too.”
“Hm,” she says. I can almost hear the gears turning in her head. Nice summer days like these, when it feels like we’re the only two people in the world, make the two feet of stone between us like nothing.
“It’s good,” I tell her. I hate fish, but she loves it. “I’d pass it through the hole, but...”
“Maybe you can throw it over,” she suggests, laughter in her voice.
“Over a thirty foot wall? You’re joking! It’d probably get stuck at the top. I won’t throw some measly sushi just so the birds could have a feast. Maybe you can make some, instead. I’ll tell you how.”
“No thank you,” she says lightly. “We don’t have any rice for it, anyway. We don’t have anymore Asians here, not since the last Purge, and no one knows how to grow it.”
We fall silent. The wind rushes past me, whipping through the branches and trees in the orchard. I wonder if she’s feeling the same wind. Probably not. Up above, the artificial sun beams brightly with some fifteen thousand LED light bulbs. The sun provides the light, the generators make the heat. It’s always warm and breezy on this side of the Wall; it feels like we’re living on a tropical island all year round, except for the holidays. The sun’s programmed to cool down a bit then, and the generators make snow. We always have white holidays.
“How’s the weather over there?” I call through the hole.
“Boring,” she replies promptly. “It’s quite dreary. Gray skies and foggy. Can’t see the sun anywhere.”
I look up at my own sun, still shining as brightly as ever. Beyond the top of the Wall, I can see just a strip of dark grey sky, almost like an extension of this stone Wall. If you’re high enough, it looks like someone’s cut the sky in half and painted one side black, and one side blue.
It’s not fair that we who live under the blue side have every luxury available, while those under the black side of the sky live in fear and poverty. What did I do to deserve this, and what did she do to deserve that, besides being born in families on opposite sides of the Wall?
“Hard to believe people used to have both sunny and grey sky, isn’t it?” she says.
“Hard to believe this wall didn’t always exist,” I reply, wincing at my harsh tone.
I can’t help it. It’s all I can think of these days.

“It’s your birthday next week, isn’t it?”
“Maybe I’ll hop on over and give you a birthday kiss.”
“Don’t be stupid. Only officials are allowed through the Gate, you know that.”
“Sheesh, Romeo. I was just joking.”
“My name’s not Romeo, Jen. It’s Al. Stop calling me that.”
“And my name’s not Jen, it’s Juliet. Sheesh, Romeo. What’s up with you these days?”
“Nothing’s wrong with me.”
“Don’t be stupid. You’ve only been a pessimist for these past two weeks. What’s up?”
“Nothing’s up.”
“Doesn’t sound like nothing.”
“Just leave me alone, okay? Can’t you stop shoving your nose into my life?”
“Gee. Fine. If it’s like that, I’ll leave you alone.”

I don’t return to the wall until my birthday. Somehow, turning sixteen isn’t as exciting as it should be. I invited just about half of my school, but the whole party feels wrong. It feels like someone’s missing. A girl whose face I don’t know, who calls me Romeo, who lives on the other side of the Wall.
As soon as I can get away without anyone noticing me, I run to the orchard, to that spot next to the bench no one knows but me.
“Jen?” I call. “Jen!” I’m almost panicking. What if she isn’t there? What if she doesn’t come back? “Jen!”
“Hey, Romeo,” she says, and I think my heart skips a beat in relief.
“Hey,” I say. “Look, I’m sorry. It was stupid of me to blow up at you--I’m sorry. I just--”
“Hey, it’s okay,” she says. “We all have bad days, right? Don’t worry about it. It’s not like I’m going to stop being your friend or anything. Oh, and happy birthday, Romeo. Have a wonderful sixteenth and don’t forget to eat some cake for me.”
“I won’t. It’s chocolate cake with whipped cream and strawberries.”
“Can I still have that kiss?”
“I said so, didn’t I?”
Though it’s hard, cold granite and a small hole I press my lips against, I can almost feel the press on the other side. At that moment, we are the only two in the world. Two feet of stone is nothing. I’m the luckiest person in the world.
“Happy birthday, Romeo.”
“Thanks, Juliet.”
“I love you.”
“I love you, too.”

“It’s almost fall over here. Why don’t you come on over for a picnic?” she asks.
A while ago, I might have scoffed at her suggestion. Now, I laugh. “Sure, why not? I’ll bring cake.”
“It’ll be grand,” she says, and I can just imagine a dreamy look in her eyes. “We’ll have a barbecue. Ribs and fish and cake. How’s that? And sushi, we’ll have sushi. You’ll have to teach me how to make it. You can bring your guitar, and I’ll sit and listen. And it’ll be wonderful--you have to see the valley in fall. When the trees turn red and orange, it’s beautiful.”
Something in her little speech pulled at my chest. Something that made my heart squeeze. “Juliet?”
“Do you really think we’ll ever...?”
She doesn’t reply for a while. “Maybe,” she says quietly.
I lean against the wall, feel the warm stone against my side, and listen. My ears catch a fierce howl of the wind, far away, on other side. Nothing like the calm rush of the wind here. Though I’m warm, the slightest shiver runs up my spine. It’s a harsh world out there. And here, I look up at the sun, and everything is perfect. We have everything, they have nothing. What are we doing except hiding out in our little city, leaving the rest of the world to die? It’s disgusting.
Once upon a time, I thought this was the norm. Of course the sun shines every day, of course it’s always warm and breezy, of course my family has a mansion, of course I can go buy candy and throw all the parties I want. Of course--until I met Juliet. And then I realized how fake my life was. It’s amazing how much my world has shaken up because of her. The rest of the Capital needs people like Juliet.
“How about I come over there?”
“I’m not joking. How about I come over there? Permanently.”
A moment of shocked silence passes. “You’re joking. You’d give up everything you have to come--over here?”
“Yeah. Look, Jules. I want to be with you. I love you.”
“You know how many people would literally kill to be on that side? Why would you want to give up your life, you family, your friends, to be with--with me?”
“Is that hard to believe?”
“We haven’t even seen each other.”
“And we never will, if I don’t.”
“They won’t let you do it. No one’s ever done it before.”
“It’s because no one’s tried. Of course they’re not going to let people into the Capital--but they’ll probably let people out of here.”
“You’re crazy. That... that you’d give that all up to be with me.”
“I don’t think I’m crazy. Actually, I think I’m saner than the rest of the people in here.” I smile, and I can feel her smile on the other side, too. “And you’re worth it, Jules,” I tell her firmly. “A life without you... I can’t live that. I can’t live life without you. I know that sounds cliche, but it’s true. Jules... you are my life.”
“Romeo,” she says, a tremor in her voice. I think I can hear her crying.
“Jules?” I ask, alarmed. “Are you okay?”
“Romeo,” she says. “You’re my life, too.”

Two populations, under different skies, living in a world split in half.
We’ll be the first to break the wall.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Heroism has gone Commercial

Just an excerpt. Will probably continue this... I like the idea. It's from a prompt at the NaNo boards, from the famous Adopt-a-Plot thread:

"Heroism has gone commercial. There's really no such thing as real heroes any more. They're all just paid to go around and stop evil villains and save the princess and so on. But, to do this, they need villains to endanger the population. As such, the NVA (National Villain's Association) was formed..." (RoboPhantom)


“The name's Nix,” Nix said, and stuck out his hand.

“I'm Klaus,” the other replied, taking it. “Why are you named that?”

“Don’t blame the kid, Klaus. My mom liked Star Trek, decided to name her kid something spacey. Besides, half of the time people don’t even use my name.”

“Why not?”

“You’re pretty curious for a kid,” Nix said, giving him a wry look. “It’s because the other half of the time they call me ‘The Black Deceiver.’”

“‘The Black Deceiver’? The villain? Really?” Klaus frowned. “Didn’t he die two weeks ago?”

Nix snorted. “Die? Is our acting really that good? Sorry to burst your bubble, Klaus, but no one dies. No one dies. The last time someone even came close to dying was in ‘76, when some stagehand had one too many glasses of beer and fell into the lava pit reserved for Sugo the Swindler. And he just got away with juice in his lungs.”


“Mmhm. Juice, the stuff you see in the lava scenes. Some mix of ten different chemicals and red food dye. Stings the eyes like crazy and tastes like puke, but otherwise harmless.”

Klaus looked suspicious.

“So, if villains don’t die... so what happens?”

“Only the names die. The people get recycled. ‘The Black Deceiver’ is my last name and my most favorite, since I got to land a good one on Heero the Magnificent’s nose. They still use computer effects to touch his nose up. But I’ve also been ‘Felix the Unlucky,’ ‘Smitty the Bandit,’ Don of ‘The Demon Duo,’ and a couple of no-name villains you probably wouldn’t know.”

Klaus’s brow furrowed. “I wouldn’t have thought ‘The Black Deceiver’ would be the same person as ‘Felix the Unlucky’...”

“Start thinking it, kid,” Nix said, ruffling the kid’s hair. “There are a whole bunch of villains out there that are actually played by the same group of people. Just don’t tell anyone, yeah? I lose my job if they find I let the word out. Can’t have the public’s delusions crash yet. This hero-villain stuff stinks, but it makes good money.”

“Who gets paid more, heroes or villains?”

Nix snorted. “What, you want to be one? Heroes, of course. But that’s only because the NHA gets paid billions because of all the action figures they sell. The NVA, not as much--I mean, who wants to buy figures of Sugo the Swindler?”

Klaus grimaced.

“Yeah, exactly. Bit ridiculous if you ask me. A villain does more work than three heroes combined, mostly since they keep dying. Heroes just have to stand there and look pretty. But who do the people like?”

“The heroes.”

“That’s right, kid. The heroes.” Nix paused. “At least, until now.”

“What do you mean?”

“I mean it’s going to change. And I’m going to be the one to do it.”