“Do you know why you’re here?”
A menacing spotlight shone on me from the direction of the ominous voice. I shivered, looking around frantically in the darkness. Where was I and how did I get there?
A sigh emanated from the darkness, and I managed to stumble out an answer in response.
“No. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“We know you didn’t. But you saw something didn’t you?”
I remembered waving to my neighbor from my pod after I’d gotten home from my assigned job as bookkeeper just like I did every day. He was an elderly gentlemen and he lived directly to the right side of me. Our pods were made of glass, like little glass cubicles stacked one on top of the other just like in a skyscraper office building, as the Government described when they first pitched the ideas to the Citizens. They reminded me of a display case for humans. You could see inside each pod on the right and left of your own pod as far as your eye could stretch. They said they took away our privacy to keep us all safe. Without privacy, they claimed, there’d be almost no crime.
“I- I’m not sure,” I replied
My palms were starting to sweat and the light was blinding. I closed my eyes, trying to pretend I was back in my pod, safe and at home. They’d promised we’d be safer if we could see our neighbors and they could see us. The Government said that the senseless murders would come to an end. People were shooting each other or beating each other every day and the body count kept rising. I would watch the news alone in the apartment I used to live in. The news anchor would recite statistics from a teleprompter, every day telling us that ten, twenty, thirty people were murdered that week. The violence felt omnipresent, and whenever I would leave the secluded apartment I used to live in, images from the news would flash in my head and I’d walk on the sidewalk quickly without looking anyone in the eye. At that time, scared people were turning into killers themselves, shooting or stabbing anyone who they felt threatened by, and I was afraid of being perceived as a threat. The Government said they would end the rampant violence. This was their solution, and it had seemed to work, until now.
The old man had a habit of eating dinner around the same time every night. I came home from my job around 5 pm, and as I slipped off my heels and let down my long blonde hair, he would begin his dinner. His wrinkled hands would shake slightly when he’d pick up a pot and put it down on the stove top. He’d focus his eyes as if in deep concentration as he prepared his meal, usually some sort of pasta that he would boil in the water. His habits were so quaint, and even though I’d never formally met the man, I felt compassion for him.
“Look, it would be much easier if you just told us what happened. We know you witnessed something. That’s the point of the pods, so you can watch out for your neighbors. What kind of neighbor would you be if you refused to tell us what you saw?”
Tears slid down my cheek and I pulled at the sleeves of my white button up shirt. What if I told what happened and they blamed me? What if they thought I hadn’t done my civil duty because I’d let him get killed?
“Somebody hurt him, and then took him away.”
“Where did they take him?”
“I don’t know. I saw him get hit and then he was taken. I wish I had more to tell you, but I don’t.”
My neighbor was gone. One moment he was boiling pasta just like normal, and the next his hand had slammed against the glass wall that separated our pods, and he was gone. I’d been reading on my couch, focused on a story I was nearly finished with, when I was startled by the thump on the glass. I looked over and my neighbor was sprawled on the ground, a large man standing over him, with an iron rod clenched in one fist and a large black body bag in the other. I screamed and dropped my book as I ran to the glass. The large man wore a black uniform that the Government officials usually wore. He looked at me with blank black eyes as dark as a starless night, seeing right through me as if I wasn’t there at all. He slipped the black bag over the crumpled old man’s body, and threw the bag over his shoulder in one deft movement as if my neighbor weighed nothing at all. I stumbled back, and fell to the ground, and what I saw next, I wish I could forget.
“Keeping knowledge from the Government is a punishable act, you know. For the good of the community, you need to tell us everything you know. And you-” I heard some shuffling of papers and then, “you are Citizen 199 correct?”
“Yes I am.”
“You’ve got a clean record at this moment. You wouldn’t want that to change now would you?”
I shook my head back and forth, and searched around in the darkness, wishing so much to see who I was talking to.
“I already told you I don’t know where the man took him. He’s just gone. There was a man and I think he killed him. Is there someone looking for him? Please tell me there’s someone looking for him. I just want to know if he’s okay.”
My interrogator sighed again, “Please remain calm. It is pertinent that you remain calm throughout this process.”
My chest heaved up and down, and I wiped my palms on my thighs, trying to forget what this man wanted so desperately for me to remember.
I’d sat on the ground, helplessly watching as the man’s eyes bore into me one last time before he turned away, carrying my neighbor like he was a sack of meat instead of a human being. As the man left with my neighbor in his big black bag that would inevitably become his grave I noticed something on the glass that I had not seen before. The glass was stained by a bloodied handprint left by my elderly neighbor, and crimson blood covered the white tiled floor of his pod. A scream had barely escaped my lips before I blacked out.
Sobbing, I begged the man to please turn off the blinding light and turn on the room lights. I didn’t want to be surrounded by this darkness underneath an artificial spotlight any longer. I knew nothing else besides that my neighbor was attacked and taken away. I wanted to leave. I wanted desperately to be anywhere but here.
“Alright, Citizen 199, I’ll turn on the lights.”
One by one, the ceiling lights flickered on, making a buzzing sound with every flash of light. The light revealed a small stark white room with only two wooden chairs for me and my interrogator, and the small wooden table that separated us.
I gasped, as I saw the large man with the dark black eyes sitting across from me. I stood up, trying to escape from him. Was he going to kill me like he killed my neighbor?
The man stood up quickly and grabbed my arm with an unwavering hand from across the table. He pushed up my sleeve, revealing the microchip in my wrist just under the palm of my hand where all my personal information was stored. I struggled, trying without avail to pull my arm away from his tight grasp. His enormous black eyes bore into me without emotion, as if he was simply performing a menial task that took no effort or skill.
“Please,” I begged, “Please, I don’t want to die.”
I’m not going to kill you,” he replied, holding a small black device in his hand that sparked electricity at the tip. “I’m just going to erase your memory. It’s for your best interest. We have worked for some time to keep this a peaceful place without violence. We’ve all agreed that any memories of violence need to be erased in order to keep our community at peace. So stop struggling. It’ll hurt less if you do.”
The man brought the small black device closer and closer to the microchip on my wrist, and as soon as the electric end touched me, I felt a shock pulse through my entire body, and the world went black.
I came home from my job as a bookkeeper around 5 pm and waved to my neighbor just like I did every day. She was an elderly woman, who had the habit of making dinner around the same time every night. While I took off my heels and let down my long blonde hair, she would begin her dinner. Her small hands would shake slightly when she’d pick up a pot and put it on the stovetop and she’d smile as she prepared her meal, usually some sort of stir fry that she would simmer on the oven. Her habits were charming, and even though I’d never properly met her, I felt kindness toward her.
It was so nice to have such a charming neighbor.