Conveyed


Cameras were outlawed when the Transition Time came.  Cell phones, too.  Computers.  Even the ancient things: iPods and iPads.  Blackberries.  Nooks.  Kindles. 

The government no longer trusted its citizens with technology.  Officials went door to door in blood-red uniforms, tearing apart houses, gathering up digital devices and taking them away in great boxes.    

They took everything. 

And the people no longer knew what to do with themselves.

Joseph supposed he’d lucked out: The officials took one look at his 35 millimeter Nikon and burst out laughing.  “Keep that piece of junk,” they spat.  The camera wasn’t a threat to them: Film was no longer available. 

Or so they thought. 

For years, Joseph had been hoarding film, picking it up wherever and whenever and however he could, hiding it throughout his apartment—some stuffed into the government-issued bag of beans.   Some tucked into his regulation-white socks.  Some hidden in the cinderblock walls of the apartment basement.  It was easy enough to chunk out a piece of the wall.  Easy enough to put it back just so.  No one—not even Joseph—could tell from a distance that the wall had been tampered with.

Every Sunday, after the proclamation, Joseph switched off the two-way television; pretended to go out for his mandatory run.  Instead, Joseph sneaked to the basement.  Joseph sneaked off to his darkroom.
Joseph liked working in the dark, doing things by feel.  He liked pulling the film from the canister and threading it onto a reel.  He liked the pungent smell of the chemicals; the clock with the glow in the dark numbers. 

On Mondays, after mandatory inspections, Joseph would sneak to the basement and print his film.  And then, when he put the paper into the developing solution, the magic would happen: Where there once was only white paper, an image would appear.

Developing film, printing pictures, was what kept Joseph sane.

You might say that pictures kept Joseph alive.

* * *

But on this particular Monday, Joseph couldn’t print his film.  This particular Monday after inspections, Joseph had his mandatory physical. 

The conveyor took him to the office and stopped.  He stepped and waited.  The doors whisked open.  The conveyor took him to the elevator which had been preprogrammed to take Joseph to the top floor.  No music played.  No buttons glowed.  There was just the slow, mechanical sound of the elevator heading to the third floor.  The elevator stopped.  The doors opened.  The conveyor moved Joseph to a white plastic chair.  He sat.

 “Joseph Schmidt?”  A nurse appeared at one of the doors, clipboard in hand.  The conveyor led him to the back.  He stepped off at the scale. 

 “Oh, that won’t be necessary.”

Joseph frowned.  “But it’s required.  Every year.”

She shook her head.  “Not this year.” 

The conveyor took him to a windowless room.  Joseph sat upon the examination table.  The white paper crinkled beneath him.  He rolled up his sleeve.  “Don’t bother, Joseph,” the nurse said, leaving the room on silent shoes of black.

The doctor entered, carrying his laptop.  Doctors, being employees of the government, were permitted computers.  “Hello, Joseph.”

“Hello, Doctor.”  Joseph stopped swinging his legs.  Sat a little straighter.  Again, the paper crinkled noisily.   
“Let’s see.  Stitches.”  The doctor clicked his mouse.

“Just two.  A minor cut.” 

“Vision disturbances.”  Click.  “Tremors.”

“You must have the wrong file, doctor.  The computer…”

The doctor glanced at Joseph.  “Obesity.”

“I’m underweight, doctor.  I never miss a day of mandatory exercise.”

“The population is getting too high, Joseph.  The government needs us to Eliminate.”

“But...”

“You missed two days of production, Joseph.  I’m going to recommend Elimination.”

“But you can’t…”

“I can.  Doctors are quite powerful, you see.  We can save lives.  And we can…”  He shrugged.

 “I’m thirty-eight years old.  It’s…”

“I’m sorry, Joseph.”  The doctor leaned in.  “Unless…”

“Unless what?” Joseph whispered.  He could feel his hands shaking in his lap.  Could feel the sweat rolling down his back.

“I would consider a small payment.”

“How much?”  He held his breath. 

“Ten thousand.”

Joseph’s heart sank.  “I don’t have that kind of money.”

The doctor shrugged.  “My report is due at the end of the week.  Once you have the money, call this number. “He scratched a twelve-digit number on a blank piece of paper.

“Where am I supposed to find a telephone?”

The doctor smiled.  “I had one installed in this building.  For emergencies onlyI’d say, Joseph, that this is a bit of an emergency.” 

“But where…?”

“When you have the money, walk to the back of the building.  Go up four flights of stairs.” 

“This building has three floors.”

“It’s so easy to deceive people who have fallen asleep.”  He smiled.  “You commoners and the government.  I keep all the contraband up there, Joseph.  My music.  My movies.  I have cigarettes and potato chips and all the money I need to keep me in illegal goods forever.  I’ll be waiting, Joseph.”

That particular Monday, Joseph skipped mandatory inspections.  What were forty lashes when one’s life was in danger?  He grabbed his camera and a roll of film from the bag of beans and he headed back to the doctor’s office.  Joseph went to the back of the building, stood before a non-descript double door that refused to open for him.  Joseph wedged his fingers between the doors, forced them open.

He stood there for a moment, getting his bearings.  He was in the back of the building, facing a metal stairwell.  They startled him: Besides those he’d discovered in his apartment building, Joseph hadn’t seen stairs in years.  He glanced at the corners of the ceiling.  No cameras.  No listening devices.  The area was silent as death.

Joseph tiptoed up the stairs.  At the second floor, he paused to listen; to strain his ears in the silence.

Nothing.

Again he continued up the stairs, more quietly this time.  More slowly. 

Again, nothing.

Third floor.  The floor that contained the doctor’s office.  He paused, hand on rail. 

Nothing.

Joseph took the last flight two stairs at a time.  At the top there was a red door marked Danger.  Toxic Chemicals.  Next to the door there was a telephone, also red.  Joseph grasped the door handle.  Locked.  He glanced at the telephone.  Picked it up.  Listened to the dial tone. 

Joseph stood back.  Kicked at the door. 

The door held.

Again, he kicked.  Again and again, not worried about the sound he was making. He was, after all, one floor above the doctor’s office.  And the office—like all governmental offices—was soundproofed. 
His foot throbbed.  His ankle hurt.  Again, he kicked.

Finally, the door opened.

Joseph stepped in.

He gasped. 

There was television—an old-fashioned one way television—in the room.  And a stereo.  He counted three computers and a plush purple couch—a color outlawed ten years ago.  Joseph went into the kitchen.  Opened an old refrigerator and found food—real fresh food—inside.  Apples and oranges and carrots and lettuce. 

Joseph made his way to a back room; a bedroom.  There was a shelf full of books, also contraband items.  Joseph grabbed one and flipped it open at random, reading, soaking in as many words as he could.  His watch beeped.  It was dismissal time.  He had to make it home quickly before the authorities checked the streets

 Joseph went from room to room, snapping pictures as he went, opening drawers, searching for anything that could help him. 

The watch beeped again.  He was supposed to be home now.  The doctor…would he be coming up the stairs tonight?

He continued searching, looking beneath cushions, rolling back rugs, think, Joseph.  Think.

And then, just as he was leaving, he found it, sitting in plain sight.  A book of records.  A column of dates.   The names of patients he had bribed.  The money received and the corresponding date.  And then a fifth column: Date of Elimination.  Each patient had been Eliminated one day after the money had been received.  The final name on the page was his own.  Joseph raised his camera.  He snapped one picture before the film ran out.  He ran from the room, not bothering to close the book; not rolling back carpets or fluffing up cushions.  He didn’t even bother to close the door behind him.

* * *

 At mandatory bedtime, Joseph sneaked to his darkroom.  He developed his film nervously, clumsily fumbling with the roll.  Slow down, Joseph.  Relax.  He pretended his was at work.  Did what his boss told him to do: He forced his mind from the process, let his body take over: film, canister, water, developer, water, fixer.  Hands shaking, he held the negatives to dim lights.

He held his breath. 

He squinted at the last picture.

It was good.

He printed two sets of the pictures and hid one in the cinderblocks of the basement.

In the dark, Joseph walked to the doctor’s building.  He walked up four flights of stairs. The door, he noticed, was still open.  He picked up the red telephone hanging upon the wall.

“You work quickly, Joseph.”  The doctor said into the telephone.  “Bring the money to my office tomorrow at nine.  I’ll rearrange your schedule.”

* * *

“I’ll wait here,” Joseph told the nurse the next day.

“He won’t come out here.”

Joseph smiled.  “I’m betting he will.”

The doctor emerged from the back rooms.  He wore a frown on his face.  “This is highly irregular Joseph.”  He extended his hand. 

Joseph gave him the envelope.   “You might want to count it.”

The doctor opened it.  Paled. 

“I have another set of those hidden away.”

The doctor glared at him.  “I could make you disappear right now.”  He flashed a syringe held in his left hand.

“Three people—three entirely unrelated people—know about these pictures and where to find them.  I disappear; those prints go to the Governor.  You see, Doctor.  Pictures are powerful, too.”

“Get out of here,” the doctor snarled. 

“I want your reassurances.”

“You’re completely healthy.  You won’t be Eliminated.”

Joseph smiled and turned aside.  He refused the conveyor and instead took the sidewalk on foot.

From the belt of the conveyor, a passerby glanced at him.  “You’re limping.”

Joseph glanced at his foot.  It was swollen and, now that he thought about it, it hurt.  He remembered the door he’d kicked in.

“You really should see a doctor,” the passerby said over his shoulder.

“I’m good.”  Joseph smiled.  He continued walking along the sidewalk, feeling more alive--and awake--than he'd felt in years.



For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kat challenged me with "Use these words in your story: doctor, roll of film, stairwell, telephone" and I challenged The Lime with "What if Socrates didn't drink the hemlock?"

Labels: ,

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: Conveyed

Monday, January 16, 2012

Conveyed


Cameras were outlawed when the Transition Time came.  Cell phones, too.  Computers.  Even the ancient things: iPods and iPads.  Blackberries.  Nooks.  Kindles. 

The government no longer trusted its citizens with technology.  Officials went door to door in blood-red uniforms, tearing apart houses, gathering up digital devices and taking them away in great boxes.    

They took everything. 

And the people no longer knew what to do with themselves.

Joseph supposed he’d lucked out: The officials took one look at his 35 millimeter Nikon and burst out laughing.  “Keep that piece of junk,” they spat.  The camera wasn’t a threat to them: Film was no longer available. 

Or so they thought. 

For years, Joseph had been hoarding film, picking it up wherever and whenever and however he could, hiding it throughout his apartment—some stuffed into the government-issued bag of beans.   Some tucked into his regulation-white socks.  Some hidden in the cinderblock walls of the apartment basement.  It was easy enough to chunk out a piece of the wall.  Easy enough to put it back just so.  No one—not even Joseph—could tell from a distance that the wall had been tampered with.

Every Sunday, after the proclamation, Joseph switched off the two-way television; pretended to go out for his mandatory run.  Instead, Joseph sneaked to the basement.  Joseph sneaked off to his darkroom.
Joseph liked working in the dark, doing things by feel.  He liked pulling the film from the canister and threading it onto a reel.  He liked the pungent smell of the chemicals; the clock with the glow in the dark numbers. 

On Mondays, after mandatory inspections, Joseph would sneak to the basement and print his film.  And then, when he put the paper into the developing solution, the magic would happen: Where there once was only white paper, an image would appear.

Developing film, printing pictures, was what kept Joseph sane.

You might say that pictures kept Joseph alive.

* * *

But on this particular Monday, Joseph couldn’t print his film.  This particular Monday after inspections, Joseph had his mandatory physical. 

The conveyor took him to the office and stopped.  He stepped and waited.  The doors whisked open.  The conveyor took him to the elevator which had been preprogrammed to take Joseph to the top floor.  No music played.  No buttons glowed.  There was just the slow, mechanical sound of the elevator heading to the third floor.  The elevator stopped.  The doors opened.  The conveyor moved Joseph to a white plastic chair.  He sat.

 “Joseph Schmidt?”  A nurse appeared at one of the doors, clipboard in hand.  The conveyor led him to the back.  He stepped off at the scale. 

 “Oh, that won’t be necessary.”

Joseph frowned.  “But it’s required.  Every year.”

She shook her head.  “Not this year.” 

The conveyor took him to a windowless room.  Joseph sat upon the examination table.  The white paper crinkled beneath him.  He rolled up his sleeve.  “Don’t bother, Joseph,” the nurse said, leaving the room on silent shoes of black.

The doctor entered, carrying his laptop.  Doctors, being employees of the government, were permitted computers.  “Hello, Joseph.”

“Hello, Doctor.”  Joseph stopped swinging his legs.  Sat a little straighter.  Again, the paper crinkled noisily.   
“Let’s see.  Stitches.”  The doctor clicked his mouse.

“Just two.  A minor cut.” 

“Vision disturbances.”  Click.  “Tremors.”

“You must have the wrong file, doctor.  The computer…”

The doctor glanced at Joseph.  “Obesity.”

“I’m underweight, doctor.  I never miss a day of mandatory exercise.”

“The population is getting too high, Joseph.  The government needs us to Eliminate.”

“But...”

“You missed two days of production, Joseph.  I’m going to recommend Elimination.”

“But you can’t…”

“I can.  Doctors are quite powerful, you see.  We can save lives.  And we can…”  He shrugged.

 “I’m thirty-eight years old.  It’s…”

“I’m sorry, Joseph.”  The doctor leaned in.  “Unless…”

“Unless what?” Joseph whispered.  He could feel his hands shaking in his lap.  Could feel the sweat rolling down his back.

“I would consider a small payment.”

“How much?”  He held his breath. 

“Ten thousand.”

Joseph’s heart sank.  “I don’t have that kind of money.”

The doctor shrugged.  “My report is due at the end of the week.  Once you have the money, call this number. “He scratched a twelve-digit number on a blank piece of paper.

“Where am I supposed to find a telephone?”

The doctor smiled.  “I had one installed in this building.  For emergencies onlyI’d say, Joseph, that this is a bit of an emergency.” 

“But where…?”

“When you have the money, walk to the back of the building.  Go up four flights of stairs.” 

“This building has three floors.”

“It’s so easy to deceive people who have fallen asleep.”  He smiled.  “You commoners and the government.  I keep all the contraband up there, Joseph.  My music.  My movies.  I have cigarettes and potato chips and all the money I need to keep me in illegal goods forever.  I’ll be waiting, Joseph.”

That particular Monday, Joseph skipped mandatory inspections.  What were forty lashes when one’s life was in danger?  He grabbed his camera and a roll of film from the bag of beans and he headed back to the doctor’s office.  Joseph went to the back of the building, stood before a non-descript double door that refused to open for him.  Joseph wedged his fingers between the doors, forced them open.

He stood there for a moment, getting his bearings.  He was in the back of the building, facing a metal stairwell.  They startled him: Besides those he’d discovered in his apartment building, Joseph hadn’t seen stairs in years.  He glanced at the corners of the ceiling.  No cameras.  No listening devices.  The area was silent as death.

Joseph tiptoed up the stairs.  At the second floor, he paused to listen; to strain his ears in the silence.

Nothing.

Again he continued up the stairs, more quietly this time.  More slowly. 

Again, nothing.

Third floor.  The floor that contained the doctor’s office.  He paused, hand on rail. 

Nothing.

Joseph took the last flight two stairs at a time.  At the top there was a red door marked Danger.  Toxic Chemicals.  Next to the door there was a telephone, also red.  Joseph grasped the door handle.  Locked.  He glanced at the telephone.  Picked it up.  Listened to the dial tone. 

Joseph stood back.  Kicked at the door. 

The door held.

Again, he kicked.  Again and again, not worried about the sound he was making. He was, after all, one floor above the doctor’s office.  And the office—like all governmental offices—was soundproofed. 
His foot throbbed.  His ankle hurt.  Again, he kicked.

Finally, the door opened.

Joseph stepped in.

He gasped. 

There was television—an old-fashioned one way television—in the room.  And a stereo.  He counted three computers and a plush purple couch—a color outlawed ten years ago.  Joseph went into the kitchen.  Opened an old refrigerator and found food—real fresh food—inside.  Apples and oranges and carrots and lettuce. 

Joseph made his way to a back room; a bedroom.  There was a shelf full of books, also contraband items.  Joseph grabbed one and flipped it open at random, reading, soaking in as many words as he could.  His watch beeped.  It was dismissal time.  He had to make it home quickly before the authorities checked the streets

 Joseph went from room to room, snapping pictures as he went, opening drawers, searching for anything that could help him. 

The watch beeped again.  He was supposed to be home now.  The doctor…would he be coming up the stairs tonight?

He continued searching, looking beneath cushions, rolling back rugs, think, Joseph.  Think.

And then, just as he was leaving, he found it, sitting in plain sight.  A book of records.  A column of dates.   The names of patients he had bribed.  The money received and the corresponding date.  And then a fifth column: Date of Elimination.  Each patient had been Eliminated one day after the money had been received.  The final name on the page was his own.  Joseph raised his camera.  He snapped one picture before the film ran out.  He ran from the room, not bothering to close the book; not rolling back carpets or fluffing up cushions.  He didn’t even bother to close the door behind him.

* * *

 At mandatory bedtime, Joseph sneaked to his darkroom.  He developed his film nervously, clumsily fumbling with the roll.  Slow down, Joseph.  Relax.  He pretended his was at work.  Did what his boss told him to do: He forced his mind from the process, let his body take over: film, canister, water, developer, water, fixer.  Hands shaking, he held the negatives to dim lights.

He held his breath. 

He squinted at the last picture.

It was good.

He printed two sets of the pictures and hid one in the cinderblocks of the basement.

In the dark, Joseph walked to the doctor’s building.  He walked up four flights of stairs. The door, he noticed, was still open.  He picked up the red telephone hanging upon the wall.

“You work quickly, Joseph.”  The doctor said into the telephone.  “Bring the money to my office tomorrow at nine.  I’ll rearrange your schedule.”

* * *

“I’ll wait here,” Joseph told the nurse the next day.

“He won’t come out here.”

Joseph smiled.  “I’m betting he will.”

The doctor emerged from the back rooms.  He wore a frown on his face.  “This is highly irregular Joseph.”  He extended his hand. 

Joseph gave him the envelope.   “You might want to count it.”

The doctor opened it.  Paled. 

“I have another set of those hidden away.”

The doctor glared at him.  “I could make you disappear right now.”  He flashed a syringe held in his left hand.

“Three people—three entirely unrelated people—know about these pictures and where to find them.  I disappear; those prints go to the Governor.  You see, Doctor.  Pictures are powerful, too.”

“Get out of here,” the doctor snarled. 

“I want your reassurances.”

“You’re completely healthy.  You won’t be Eliminated.”

Joseph smiled and turned aside.  He refused the conveyor and instead took the sidewalk on foot.

From the belt of the conveyor, a passerby glanced at him.  “You’re limping.”

Joseph glanced at his foot.  It was swollen and, now that he thought about it, it hurt.  He remembered the door he’d kicked in.

“You really should see a doctor,” the passerby said over his shoulder.

“I’m good.”  Joseph smiled.  He continued walking along the sidewalk, feeling more alive--and awake--than he'd felt in years.



For the IndieInk Writing Challenge this week, Kat challenged me with "Use these words in your story: doctor, roll of film, stairwell, telephone" and I challenged The Lime with "What if Socrates didn't drink the hemlock?"

Labels: ,

10 Comments:

At January 16, 2012 at 9:12 AM , Anonymous Head Ant said...

I recently wrote about a dystopian Joseph myself, but he was much younger.

This piece made me really fearful. And will Joseph's foot give him trouble later?

 
At January 16, 2012 at 9:14 AM , Anonymous Head Ant said...

I recently wrote about a dystopian Joseph myself, but he was much younger.

This piece made me really fearful. And will Joseph's foot give him trouble later?

 
At January 16, 2012 at 1:14 PM , Anonymous Tara R. said...

Makes me glad I kept my old SLR film camera. Very powerful piece, all too real of a possibility.

 
At January 16, 2012 at 2:55 PM , Anonymous Lance said...

I like how you layed out the dialogue. This is dark and and I like that. Well done, KG....keep it coming...you're on fire right now.

 
At January 18, 2012 at 3:00 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks, Lance.

 
At January 18, 2012 at 3:01 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Thanks for reading, Tara. I'm not a photographer, but my father used to develop and print his own pictures.

 
At January 18, 2012 at 3:01 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Don't know! But I think the bad leg is better than a trip to the doctor's office.

 
At January 18, 2012 at 3:19 PM , Anonymous meadering meágan said...

I like this foray into science fiction. (All the more weird because my campus was designed with elevators-only in mind...)

One nit-picky question, though... Where does Joseph find processing chemicals? Those are hard to find even now, when film is still accessible...

 
At January 19, 2012 at 2:54 PM , Anonymous Kat said...

Wow! Great story. I hope you keep going with it. I would love to see what happens to Joseph.

 
At January 24, 2012 at 7:48 AM , Anonymous The Lime said...

Fantastic! Thanks for linking it to me.

 

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