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If I See Myself (1st Prize Winner, Group 2, LittleStar Harrow Short Story Competition - Reflections)

April, 2012
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If I See Myself 

I suppose it’s time.

I brush a bit of dust off my black trousers, tug on the collar of my white shirt, and smooth out the front of my black jacket. Formal attire is the expected one on the Day. I push the stall door open and examine myself in the mirror. I see myself, still looking foolish even in this fine suit. I switch on the faucet and wet my hands, then try to straighten my rumpled hair.

“Hey, Ture.”

I look to my right. Thomis watches me impassively, keeping the restroom door half open with the heel of his shoe. “Hello, Thomis.”

“I’m nervous as hell.” From his calm expression, you can’t see that, but the minute shaking of his hands tells me he is. Thomis raises his hand and scratches his head, ruffling his clean-cut, auburn hair. “Are we going or what?”

I take one last look at myself in the mirror. The next time I look in a mirror, I will be seeing my Truth. I hope to God that I am not a Blight. Otherwise… I shiver at the thought of dank, underground passages, the rank smell of human waste and rotting. And the screams. I’ve heard of the screams. They will drive you insane if you even just manage to overhear it. Likewise, I hope that I am not a Porot. I can’t be. I cannot. I am not that kind of person. I have a friend, do I not? Thomis. I am no Robot.

“Ture?”

 I jerk myself out of these fantasies. Whatever I am, I have always been; seeing my Truth for the first time will not change anything. “Let’s go, Thomis.”

The door slams with a bang.

 

Outside in the hallway, gaggles of boys and girls are chatting in two long lines as they await the Mirror of Falsities. We are all nervous with anticipation at finally viewing our Truth. At the end of the corridor lies a pair of massive, steel doors.

Two Automaton Pawns guard the doors, their green eyes like a hawk’s, darting about as they size us all up. They are much grander than normal, utility Automatons. Adorning their mechanical figures are jewels, crystals, gold rings, circlets; it gets to the point where it seems rather excessive. The duo wields their deadly pike in an iron grip that could crush bones.

Thomis and I walk down the metal corridor, our loud footsteps melding in with the chaotic din, until we reach the end of the first line of boys. There significantly fewer boys attending this Day, than there are girls. Our line barely reaches the halfway point of the hallway.

Just as we enter the line, it jerks forward. We quickly keep up with it, but I accidently bump into a tall boy in front of me. “Oh apol –” The boy turns, and I instantly recognize him. “Arathorn! It’s been long since I’ve seen you.”

The boy looks down at me. He’s a good foot taller than us both. “Ture? Awesome! How’ve you been?”

Behind me, Thomis pipes up. “Arathorn, you’ve been traveling round with your parents, right?”

Arathorn responds with raised eyebrows, and says in surprise, “How’d you know that?” He takes a few steps backward as the line moves, still facing us.

Thomis grins knowingly, tapping the side of his head. “Oh, you know. I have my sources…” Then he laughs. “Okay, not really. Well, it was your brother.”

The taller boy frowns and shakes his head disgustedly. “Berch? Already has his own house and all – he’s an adult, I mean! – And he’s still complaining about not being able to going with us on the trip. I mean, I stayed home with the babysitter that time when he spent, like, two weeks with Dad on a road trip to see colleges or whatever!”

“Eh.” Thomis shrugs. “I don’t know. He was okay, I guess. I just popped by to ask where’d you to disappear off to.” He licks his lips. “Anyways.” Thomis puts on a heavy, serious expression and declares, “Today is the Day, and we shall toast to the Truth!”

They pretend to toast. I force a smile and look away. I do not make light talk during serious times. Today is the Day. It still feels hard to believe that it has finally come. Only a week ago I could still act as though I were a child. Then came Preparation Week, and all children aged fifteen were assigned coaches, in order to ready us for the Truth.

Suddenly that reminds me. “Arathorn, what came of you during Preparation Week? Did you even participate in it?”

He dismisses my questions, flapping a hand. “It’s optional, yeah? Besides, I’m prepped ‘cause of Berch. Oh, by the way, did you know that his Truth is a hippo? Ha, and I couldn’t believe when he told me he got assigned to Texhonora, of Obul! Berch, a techie? Yeah right, I thought, and –”

I stop listening the rest of his babbling. I am really too nervous to joke around.

As time passes, my anxiety grows. I fidget, playing around with my tie and tapping my foot rhythmically. It is impossible to keep still.

“Thomis, have you got a watch?” I ask, glancing back at him.

“Maybe…” He frowns and rummages through his clothes. Slipping a hand into his coat pocket, he cries, “Ah, here it is!” He reveals an old analog watch with a leather wristband. “It’s six. Think it was five when we got into the line.”

I groan and knead my forehead with my knuckles. “We’ll be till the end of time.”

Arathorn says, “What do you mean? Look at the line.” He gestures in front of him. I look, and see that there are only ten more boys in front of us.

We fall into silence. I begin to think about the Mirror. 

At the Arceron School we are taught how the Mirror swept up the world in a giant wave of change; it has brought about worldwide peace. We can now see everyone as they truly are, all layers of falsification, conscious or not, peeled away.

Society is divided into several groups: the Meccna: the ruling upper-class of the world; the Obuls: content middle-class; the Blight: rodents who aren’t even worth it to be killed, who live deep underground; the Porot: those in charge of administration, essentially taking the place of computers; and finally, the Blackhearts: the foulest of all, immediately placed in custody for our safety. Within each group are several, more specific subgroups.

The rest of your life after childhood is determined this way – by your Truth.

 “Sorpois, Arathorn.” The Pawn intones flatly. “You may enter.”

I blink. Time has flown. Already, it is Arathorn’s turn. In several minutes, it will mine. I swallow, and lick my lips. It feels just like going to get a shot. What happens beyond those doors, no one knows. In my mind’s eye, I see a council of old, wizened men staring down at me with cold, calculating looks. In a booming voice, I am told to step in front of a high mirror with an elegant, golden frame. I see myself move forward, and also see jagged, black machinery operating silently behind the harmless-looking pane of reflective glass. Then illumination. I see my Truth in all its stark glory. But try as I might, I cannot picture what it looks like, but it won’t remain a mystery for much longer.

“Ture…”

I look up at Arathorn. He seems nervous. “Go on,” I say, awkwardly.

Arathorn hesitates, and then nods. “Mmm…” It appears as if he is pondering something. He says to Thomis and I, “We’re going to see each other again. On the other side. Yeah?”

We nod. “Uh-huh, ’cross my heart’ and all that other bull. It’s for sure,” says Thomis. He grins, albeit shakily. Our resolve has weakened, and with it comes fear.

“Sorpois, Arathorn. You may enter.” The Pawn repeats its previous words, a hint of impatience in them.

“Comin’.” Arathorn glances at us once more, sighs, and enters.  The doors close behind him with a clang, accompanied by a jangle of metal chains being drawn across the doors and latched onto the wall.

“Man…” Thomis shivers and hugs himself. “We’re so close. Oh God, I’m actually a little freaked out. Y’know, what do think you’re gonna get, huh?”

I twist around and glare at him. “Look, you’re afraid and nervous, I am afraid and nervous, so let us simply be quiet for now, if that’s all right.”

“Alright, alright…”

“Saren, Turetoth.”

I freeze. Time feels as if it has stopped, become solid. So soon, has my turn come

Perhaps the Truth entices some people, but as for me, I feel as though I am ready to faint. It’s been so quick. I thought it would take forever, but now, standing before my Truth, it feels parallel to standing before the Gates of Hell themselves.

I realize now. I don’t need to know what kind of person I truly am. It’s better to remain in the dark, fooling oneself, than to face the full brightness of the Sun, and risk blindness.

But – it is inevitable. I must enter, must face my Truth.

I look back at Thomis. His face is a mask of panic and fear. I see. Not until he stands in my place, soon, shall he too be filled with understanding.

It is here, just before my world is torn apart, the props and lies pulled down, that clarity comes forth, and fills my mind. Truly, whatever awaits me, whatever fate, behind those steel doors, I must face, without fear.

Now I feel that which all of us will feel – acceptance.

I step forward, and pass through the doorway. I see darkness for an instance, and then all is illuminated. I smile.

 

THE END

By Michael Chau,

Western Academy of Beijing

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