Authors: Maggie Sunseri
Copyright © 2015 Maggie Sunseri
This work is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or any information storage and retrieval system now known or to be invented, without permission in writing from the author, except by a reviewer who wishes to quote brief passages in connection with a review or article.
Cover by Mike Sunseri
For those who are awake.
For those who see the flaws in the system.
For those who aren't afraid to speak up for what's right.
You are my muse.
“During my years of adolescence I lost my way. I defied authority by breaking the Council’s rules, lied compulsively, disrespected my parents, and even talked of leaving Oportet. My bad decisions were silly, and in a harsher sense, they were also evil and dangerous.
“As I have grown older, I have come to realize these things, and I will now use my wisdom to help children like you to not fall into dangerous traps like I did. My parents, the Council, and teachers have all helped me to realize the wonderful place to live and prosper is, in fact, where we are now. Oportet has given us a beautiful gift—a beautiful life. Those outside our society lie, cheat, and even brutally murder for money and a sick form of pleasure. The world is in rubble behind our gates—the people are narcissists and sociopaths, lacking any form of happiness or purpose. I am just thankful that I have now accepted the right way in this broken world.
“You must continue to adhere to all of the Council’s rules. Each and every one of them is extremely important to your well-being and protection.”
I smiled sweetly after the last words of my introductory speech. Before exiting the stage, I cast a glance toward the adults in the back of the auditorium. Head Councilman Tomlinson gave me a nod of approval, while the rest of the council members kept their usual stern and businesslike look plastered on their faces. My parents both met my gaze and gave me encouraging smiles. That wasn’t my usual testimony, but the Council asked me to prepare the condensed version.
I focused all of my energy on moving my feet forward, trying to keep myself from toppling over. I felt every inch of my body shaking, and I could hardly believe I had just spoken in front of that many people without passing out. I swallowed and eyed the seat backstage meant for me. I was vaguely aware of the din of the clapping audience fading out behind me as I collapsed into my chair.
My introduction was just enough to lead the children into the annual Oportet Day speech at the middle school level. Oportet Day was our society’s day of pride; it was a day to appreciate what the Council had given us. From backstage, I watched as Tomlinson made his way to the platform as the anthem died out. It was tradition for the Head Councilman to deliver speeches at each of Oportet’s schools.
The high school speech was harsher in content, but not by much. Being seventeen, I had just graduated from school and was beginning my gap year activities—the activities designed to plan my future and my role in Oportet. It was certainly stressful. The Council was promising a bright future for me if I continued to share my frightening testimony against rebellion.
I shuddered as I remembered myself actually considering leaving my family, my home. After intense guidance sessions with the Council, and after my accident, I found my way again.
Our society is the only source of light, love, and order. It baffles me why anyone would choose to live anywhere else. The fall of the American government created chaos. In the outside world, people had resorted to living like savage rats—feeding off of each other to survive. Oportet, on the other hand, was a civilized, rich society created for the sole purpose of safety. Everyone here had a role to play.
“Hey, sweetheart.” My mother’s voice jolted me out of my trance and back to the present. “Luna, you sounded wonderful up there. Your father and I are very proud.”
Getting up from my chair, I grinned and wrapped my arms around her as she pulled me in for a hug. “Thank you. Speaking in front of children is much different than adults. I just thought it was really important that they get the message.” I didn’t want anyone to question Oportet’s way and purpose like I had; it had caused too much stress and pain for my family and friends—not to mention what it had cost me.
“Well, you did the right thing,” Father said as he came to stand with us. “And I just wanted you to know that your testimony has also helped this family tremendously, as I have just been offered a position as an adviser to the Council.”
Mother and I offered our congratulations and joy for this huge step in the right direction for our family. This promotion meant our income would increase as well as our political influence. Father had held a minor job in the law enforcement branch of our government, so being one of the select advisers to the Council was a major upgrade.
A sudden shift in the air made me glance over my Father’s shoulder. That’s when I saw him. My knees almost failed me, and I couldn’t breathe.
My parents, completely unaware of my sudden panic, walked off to converse with the other councilmen and their families.
Something resonated deep inside when the boy appeared in my line of vision. He was leaning against a wall, staring at me. His messy dark hair matched his obsidian-colored eyes, which cut right through to my soul.
Who was he? I blinked, then caught my breath. He wasn’t just staring at me—his eyes were narrowed at me in an intense glare. What was his problem? I suddenly felt sick to my stomach, the wave of nausea making me want to vomit.
I looked away, hoping he’d leave. But he didn’t change his stance or speak to me. I had to get out of there. But the strange boy was leaning against the wall right next to the door leading to the parking lot. Taking a deep breath, I stood and crept toward the door, wondering if he’d stop me. Passing him, I gulped and looked down at the ground, quickly exiting the building.
The daylight struck me so brightly that I squinted for a few seconds, the summer heat making me even queasier. I made it a few yards before I had to stop, grateful that I appeared to be alone in the lot. I clutched my stomach as I leaned over, bile churning within me. Weakly, I collapsed on the ground, burying my head in my shaking hands. I closed my eyes and concentrated on breathing deeply, forcing my clenched body to relax.
I don’t normally get panic attacks, but my hands were shaking uncontrollably, and a cold sweat broke out across my neck. Then I remembered—my little sister Megan hadn’t attended today’s speech because of the flu. Afraid I had suddenly come down with the same illness, I needed to get home.
My neighborhood was just across the road from the middle school. Because of the societal holiday, I doubted the roads would be too busy. Gaining the strength to stand up, I walked along the edge of the parking lot until I felt a hand on my shoulder. I jumped and spun around.
It was the boy with the cold, unforgiving eyes.
“Um…can I help you?” I mumbled, my voice shaky and unsure. He looked pained, continuing to stare into my eyes. I squirmed free from his hand and stepped back.
“Luna…” He shook his head and smiled in a humorless way that sent chills down my spine. There were dark circles under his bloodshot eyes, and a hard edge to his features. “No. This was a mistake. I don’t think you can.” And with that, he turned on his heels and walked away, leaving me staring at his back with an elevated heartbeat.
That was weird…really weird. I shook my head. Maybe my case of the flu was severe enough that I’d just hallucinated the entire exchange.
“You feel fine, but I’m going to get the thermometer just to be sure,” Mother said as she headed to the medicine cabinet, her straight, red ponytail swaying behind her.
I lay on our living room couch, watching the same documentary that ran every holiday since before I was born. I tried to concentrate on the program’s testimonials from those who came to Oportet from the Outside and had their lives change for the better, but my attention kept wandering back to the mysterious boy in the parking lot.
Mother handed me the thermometer and waited to see if I had a fever. I swept my sweaty hair off my face and took deep breaths to slow my racing heart.
The thermometer beeped with the final temperature. “It’s ninety-nine point eight degrees,” I said in a small voice. Mother sighed and took the thermometer from me. I caught her rolling her eyes at the TV screen, noticeably bothered by the glorification of Outsider immigrants. My parents were very opinionated on that subject.
“That’s a shame. Megan’s flu started around that temperature, and then shot up rapidly within hours. I’m sorry, I know you were looking forward to your Occupational Guidance Session.” After placing the thermometer back, she headed upstairs to break the news to Father. My parents were looking forward to my OGS far more than I ever would.
The truth was that I was perfectly content with opting out of the meeting. It was the meeting to help plan my future, and I honestly had no idea what that future was. Every occupation I had considered began to sound less and less appealing as time passed by. I wasn’t ready to head down any career path, but everyone else was stepping on my heels and pushing me forward.
As I was stressing, an image of the boy flashed in my mind again. I furrowed my brows in concentration. Did I know him? He knew my name, so we must have met sometime. My mind came up blank. I still had not ruled out the possibility that I had imagined him, especially because I knew virtually everyone in Oportet. Yet another part of me feared he was a part of the memories I had lost forever—during my “rebellious” phase. I suddenly wished I could see him again, just so that I could figure out this mystery.
“How about we just skip this stupid project,” Jasper Williams suggested.
I narrowed my eyes. That would mess up my perfect grades for sure. Less than a perfect school career meant a less than perfect future.
“Don’t worry, princess. I was just joking.”
The dark-haired, dark-eyed boy was leaning over the table towards me, so close that it was definitely popping my personal bubble. I leaned back in my chair, putting distance between us.
“You’re hilarious. We better get started soon because Jenna and I have somewhere to be after school, and I want to know what we have to do before class ends.” I swore that if he caused me any trouble at all with this assignment I would go straight to Mrs. Lawrence and demand a new, more fitting partner.
I almost felt sorry for him, though. I never saw anyone making an effort to talk to him or even offer a friendly smile. This was expected, of course—Jasper was an Outsider. This was his first year at our high school.
He smirked and ruined my leaning-back-in-my-chair maneuver by inching forward even more. I became aware of everything about him in that moment—the perfect messiness of his hair, the constant humor in his eyes, and the infuriating way his smile made me want to smile, too. I cleared my throat and began to read the research prompt.
“Shit,” I muttered when I saw that part of the assignment was visiting the museum.