One

I’ve always been afraid of things.

I’m not sure why. Mother says it’s because I was born in the Solstice. I doubt it. If I were born then, I should’ve been dead by now–like all the other Children the Government had passed judgment on for being born on that day. No, I think my fear is deep-seated, a curse perhaps, one that the stars aligning on my birth couldn’t fathom.

Still, Mother tells me to keep my birthday a secret. It is one of those secrets I’ll probably take to the grave. I am 16 now. I’m not sure how I’ve managed to live this long. But nobody suspects a thing.

Except perhaps for this boy who seems to follow me around. He is quite short and stocky, and I couldn’t tell if his hair is red or brown. He always seems to be where I was. In the corridors of the school, the old library, the trading grounds, and even in the graveyard. And his dog! A bushy little fellow with stubby little legs and light brown fur. Its kind is rare nowadays. It keeps yapping about, always excited, always wagging its tail. It would’ve been cute if not for its eyes–the right one is black, the left one is green. Its eyes seem to suspect me. Maybe it could see that I was an anomaly.

***

He didn’t know where the symbol came from. When he woke up that morning, it was written all over his wall. Written so many times, in fact, that his once white-washed wall now looked like a map of the blackened constellations.

He traced the symbol with one finger. Coal. Only someone from the East could have done this. Only they had coal now. But why would they waste it on this?

Faraday was sleeping in the corner of the room, tied to an iron pole. He seemed content, only lightly wiggling his ears once in a while because of the match flies. He would’ve known if somebody came. He would’ve smelled them from a hundred meters away.

Maybe they weren’t in this bedroom last night. Maybe they were the proverbial Psychics who could make everything happen if they only willed it so. Maybe some of them had in fact survived. But that is impossible. All of them are dead. Or.. killed.

When the prophecy had been laid down, the Government made sure to protect the civilization. So they gave the order, and nobody who was born that day had survived. It was all for the greater good. After the darkness, everything had to be done for the greater good.

He looked out his window. It wasn’t quite dawn yet. He felt sweat run down his face, his neck. Had he been dreaming? But he couldn’t remember. Everything before his 17th birthday had been hazy, in fact. All he knew was that he had been living in this studio apartment ever since he was born. He knew that Children were supposed to have a Mother and/or a Father. But he had no memory of any of them. He only had Faraday, and that was probably enough.

He looked at the symbol again. He knew they were supposed to be there. He knew he was where he needed to be. And now he needed to do the task. He wasn’t afraid.

***

Lucia had always been perfect. The voices in my head keep telling me that. I am inadequate. I am not enough. I shouldn’t have been born.

I keep everything in, though, like how we were taught at school. Thoughts were dangerous, our teachers said. Once we start thinking about ourselves and our selves alone, then we endanger the civilization. We didn’t want the great darkness happening again, did we?

Now, each one had a role to play, and we must discover them for ourselves. Each one had a gift, they said, and this was discovered before you turned 18. Lucia discovered that she was a Healer when she was 15. And everyone was so mesmerized by this wonder, for rarely do you find somebody who discovers her gift at the tender age of 15. They said that she must be one of the matured ones, for in this civilization, maturity is prized, and maturity means knowing yourself.

I am almost 18 now, and I still do not know who I am. I am ashamed of it. And the voices in my head would remind me of that everyday. Just try, honey! Your sister could easily do it, Mother says this day by day. But I could hear them talking behind my back as well. Mother and Father and all the other Mothers and Fathers. What’s wrong with him? Poor thing. He must be one of those late-fledglings… you know, the bad eggs, the ones who end up discovering their gift all too late and living their lives not knowing and wandering off. It’s a sad fate, but… at least he has a twin who can be very useful to all of us. I don’t even know if he’s really my son.

The voices in my head are shouting now. I am alone in my room while they celebrate our birthday downstairs. Pretty soon Lucia would knock at the door and ask me in her sweet voice to come down so we can blow out the candles together. She would open the door. And I would pretend to have fallen asleep. I’m now very skilled at this. Perhaps so skilled that they don’t even remember that it happens every year.

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