Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Adeline

Adeline almost didn't notice the paper in the muddy road.

It was the 60th year since the world had been saved and the girl was rushing to the Parade of Life. She hoped to be a miracle child. Every year the Leader bestowed a miracle on a child. And because it was the 60th year, 60 miracles were to be distributed throughout the provinces. Each miracle would be different. Every miracle fulfilled the dreams of the individual child.

She remembered the girl the year before. Verite. She was the most beautiful girl, 14 years old and poor. Poorer even than Adeline. Verite's father had been crippled saving the Leader's portrait from a fire. And he had been crippled when a beam had crushed him.

Verite's miracle was a sight. Adeline watched on television as the leader kissed Verite's forehead and motioned to her father. Verite burst into tears and hugged the Leader closely. He hugged her back with the warmth and personality that the greatest leaders have. And Verite's father cried out. The camera panned to him and he rose, shaky at first, and then he stood. Tears poured down the man's face and Verite ran to her father, no longer weak, no longer crippled.

That was last year. This year, the leader would travel to each province and perform 5 miracles. Five wonderful, amazing, magnificent miracles.

Adeline thought only of this as she ran to the Parade of Life. Maybe the Leader would choose her and give her a miracle. Maybe the Leader could bring her mother back. No. She wouldn't come back. She had to remember what the quiet man had said.

The quiet man worked for the Leader. Adeline's mother was needed for the country, to keep the world safe. The quiet man explained that Adeline's mother was special—an untouchable. When Adeline heard that her sadness had overcome her. The untouchables protected the country but they never came back. The untouchables had some of the same magic that the leader did. They were needed to keep the country safe. It was said that with meditation and coordination the untouchables could bring the rains and save dying crops. They kept the country safe, but they could never be with their families.

The quiet man gave her a silk handkerchief and guided her to the orphanage—he let her keep the handkerchief. Silk was rare; the quiet man must have been very important to have the handkerchief—let alone to give it to a little girl.

Her mother. Adeline said her mother's name quietly to herself as she walked toward the parade, repeating it under her breath to keep her safe. It was said that the untouchables could hear the slightest whisper of their closest loved ones. Adeline whispered this and smiled.

And that was when she noticed the paper in the muddy road. Cold fear ran down her spine as she saw the blue logo of the demons. The demons conjured the deadly papers and laid traps for the peaceful. The Leader's father, the Founder, had saved the world from the demons, carved out the peaceful land Adeline lived in. But they still lurked on the edges. Only the untouchables, with the help of the Leader, kept the demons from entering the land.

The papers were a common demon trap. People who touched the papers were said to burst into flames. Adeline shuddered at the thought. She should get an officer, they would clear the area and eradicate the demon papers. She stepped carefully around it, but then a gust of wind blew it over and there was a picture of her mother.

The demons were tricking her. Adeline knew it. They were trying to kill her. But Adeline couldn't pull her eyes away. Her mother, there, printed so perfectly. She looked older, but she looked relieved and happy. Adeline wondered if the demons had heard her whispering, had heard her wish. And they were tempting her.

She wanted to touch it. To hold it. But she couldn't, she would burn. She would burst into flames and die. Adeline loved life; did not want to fall prey to the demons.

But she didn't have to touch it to read it. Didn't have to burst into flames to see what it said. She tilted her head and took a careful step toward the demon paper. Under her mother's picture was a title—Escaping the Death Camps of the Untouchables.

Adeline was perplexed. What did that mean? Whose death camps? Why wasn't her mother in the borderlands protecting the country? How had she appeared on a demon paper?

It was a trick. It was a trick and the demons had bored into her soul to trick her. Adeline ran toward the Parade of Life.

I must find someone to help me, Adeline thought, to destroy the demon paper. She bumped her way through the crowd, the noise swelled and she got lost in the push of men in coarse wool coats and women wearing store bought dresses. The Parade was an occasion to dress up, to celebrate the Leader and the grand achievement of a land safe from the demons.

Short Story: what happens when the culture of personality hides the truth?

Adeline found herself at the front of the crowd. A large missile on a wagon pulled by twenty beautiful horses slowly walked past. The coats of the horses shimmered.

And then she heard it. The rumble of a car engine. It must be the Leader, she thought with unadulterated excitement. She squealed with joy and realized that she was cheering with the crowd. He was magical. He was the Leader, and he would kept the land safe.

His car was shiny and ran without pops or starts. Even the tires looked new. Adeline had never seen a car so beautiful. The headlights were on too, both working. It was rare to see a car in such fine condition—even if there was one, it was even rarer to see the headlights on. Every drop of gas counted.

But the Leader could celebrate for a day. Could put on the headlights and show his people that they were safe—that he was their guiding light. As he passed, Adeline screamed for him, she cried and hoped he would look her way. He hoped he would grant her a miracle. Hoped that he would protect her.

As he passed he turned and smiled at her. Then the moment was over. And Adeline was left with the same hole in her stomach—the miracle hadn't happened for her.

She stood in that spot for hours. The parade subsided and the crowds dispersed. The day turned to dusk and she turned back toward the orphanage.

Adeline felt alone as she watched her shadow extend past her feet in a long arrow guiding her back. One foot in front of the other. The road had dried, and the footprints of the morning crowds were pressed into the road.

She nearly stepped on the demon paper. It was buried into the mud by a footprint.

There were no signs of fire. Just paper in the mud in the middle of the road.

She stole a match from the kitchen that night and creeped out of the orphanage under the light of an almost full moon. She had little trouble finding the paper in the road. The moment was so stark in her mind, she knew she would never forget it.

She knelt down, lit the match and set the paper on fire. There was no such thing as magic, and there was no such thing as demons.