When I finish, I scrub my mouth against the coat’s furry sleeve and ascend my gaze to the obscure montage of white speckles and a multitude of hooded shapes. ‘Back straight. Hands at your sides. Be proper.’ I trot down the porch steps, kneading my eyelids and blinking several times until the world goes into focus. As I take in my surroundings – embracing the prominent skyscrapers, inhaling the scents of car exhaust and Italian spices – I am rattled by a particular discernment: every individual migrates past or alongside one another with a stringent two-foot proximity between them. Each back is also erect, hands pasted onto their thighs. There isn’t the slightest chance that their bodies will accidently collide, or that their fingers will graze. Even worse is they’re all flashing that same hideously jubilant smile Mother did. Flanked by this massive body of synchronized citizens, I swear that I am a clumsy, weaponless sniper charging in to battle an expertly trained military. I gulp noisily. At any moment, these people will pull out their guns and blast me sky-high, out of my boots; and as droplets of warm blood from the heavens rain down on them, showering their faces with that awful red hue, they will lick their lips and grin sadistically. Nestling into the hefty coat, I urge myself onward and amble through the slippery carpet of snow and discarded cups of tea and hot cocoa.
Out of the blue, I hear ‘Go to the Roasted Nuts Food Stand. Yum, yum’ from the infuriatingly soft cooing within my head. I try to shush the voice, but it is less susceptible to my brain’s demand. In fact, with each success I have at shunning it temporarily, the soft cooing seems to come back more and more aggressively and authoritatively. I cannot even think over the cooing. ‘Roasted Nuts. Yum, yum. Yum, yum, Yum, yum.’
Gripping a fistful of hair, I tug and jerk and wrench to the extreme extent that tears slither down my face, and a dulling clump of golden hair rests unhappily in my reddish hand. ‘Yum, yum. Yum, yum.’ “Oh my God…” I mutter discordantly, seeing the ground ripple as I stomp my crummy boots into the slushy snow. “What is going on?” Shutting my eyes, I can feel my heart galloping turbulently to every part of my body, bumping against my arms, legs, neck, shoulders, elbows, knees, and ankles, leaving the memento of a throbbing pulse after it departs. I’m quaking. I’m tipping over, unable to support my own strength. A robust surface suddenly clashes with my teetering frail body, and then the frosted concrete spanks my back. I rid my lungs of any lingering breath.
When I dare to unveil my eyelids, I realize that there’s an older man sprawled out on top of me. He’s lean, muscular, his lower jaw dressed with 5 o’clock shadow. He’s also exhibiting a wide set of very crooked teeth; if I didn’t know better, I would have thought that he was going to pin me down and force himself on me. He says nothing, and his glassy eyes give no indication that he’s conscious of my presence. My gut condenses in discomfort as we continue to gaze unresponsively into each other’s eyeballs, white puffs emitting from our nostrils, so I verve my neck achingly to the side. Instantaneously, I swallow down a lump in my throat, along with any shred of calm I was able to hold on to, and yelp.
Mere seconds ago, there had been hundreds of feet trifling in the sleet, but now, I can only pick out two pairs within the radius. They belong to a woman and her awkward-footed toddler. I twist my head to the other side. No cigar. All right, either everyone grew wings on their shoes like Hermes and flew away, or… yeah, I can’t think of another alternative.
Deciding that he’s spent enough time smushing me with his large frame, the man swiftly stands up and adjusts the button of his coat that’d unfastened itself. He resumes marching mechanically down the block. Right then, like there had been a massive bubble encompassing the man and I, quarantining us from the rest of the world, and his egress caused it to burst, the mass of permanently blithe city folk are visible.
The soft cooing is now a coyote’s petrifying howl in my head. ‘Go to the Roasted Nuts Food Stand. Yum, yum. Yum, yum. YUM, YUM.’ My ears are church bells, ringing thunderously. I dig my nails into the palms of my hands, wanting to bleed to ensure myself that I am not dead. Reality is furious with me. It aspires to drive me mad with deceptive voice and false illusions. When I flip over onto my stomach, as snowflakes casually bed themselves on my eyelashes, I get a fleetingly glimpse of the man meeting up with the woman at the crosswalk light, where they kiss gently, the child sucking on its wee thumb.
And then, as if this task of watching a child rigorously suck its flesh is some kind of stimulation to cognition, I understand. I consider how I look five years older than I think I should be; why Mother did not respond appropriately to my sentences, or denote my confusion toward her behavior; why the man did not see me, or anyone besides the woman and her youngster. This city, or the whole world possibly, is living the same day over and over. There is a certain routine that must be pursued. The soft cooing acts like a narrator in everybody’s heads, telling them what to do, how to act, who to trust, etcetera, and that change in the standard sway of things goes unnoticed. It would also appear that these people have their brains rewired to only see others that are essential to advance in their day. Dear God, how long have we been strolling along like this? How is this even achievable?
I am getting a distant impression that someone wants my attention.
“Why are you screaming?”
Huh? I’m screaming? Well, that would explain the raw sensation in my esophagus.
Someone grabs me by the shoulders, impelling me onto my back, and bellows into my face, “Miss, please! Contain yourself!”
Instinctively, I begin to thrash around, my fist punching something solid and definitely not plush. My knuckles whimper in agony. Peeling my eyes open, I scrutinize an enormous creature outfitted in an elastic white uniform. There are metal pads on its shoulders and knees, silver disks covering each square inch of its chest, and a helmet that shrouded its eyes, nose, and mouth by means of shaded glass. It towers over me intimidatingly, breathing shrewdly, as sketchy noises come from the diminutive radio hooked to its belt. I think I discern the words “Take care… do what is necessary… soldier,” but I am unsure.
“Did someone neglect to take their pills?” It says, clicking a little green button located below its chin. The dark mask becomes transparent, revealing the hollow face of am unsmiling man. I don’t know whether to be feel overjoyed or unnerved. “Well?” He snaps, making me slink backwards a bit. In response, the man snatches my ankle and snarls at me. Unnerved, it is.
I remember Mother calling out to me before I ran for the bushes, reminding me to take those disgusting yellow pills on the kitchen counter. I can read it in the man’s eyes that they are pivotal. They are the key to this malicious operation.
When I don’t answer him, he takes in a deep inhalation of bitter air, and I cry out as the hellish blackness of his pupils devours whatever color there is in his eyes. Growling, the man seizes my free ankle and hauls me indifferently down the city block. Of the hundreds ambling, no citizen takes notices of the wailing girl as her face dives in and out of piles of dirty snow, or as the cement abrades her feeble skin until it adorns the sidewalk with red and brown blood.
We turn and tunnel through an alleyway, where the man finally releases my ankles. I cower back against the brick wall, panting and inefficiently nursing my wounds. At his leisure, the man snakes a hand into his pants pocket, taking out a handkerchief that is evidently wrapped around a cylinder object. “Don’t you worry,” he mutters with a cruel smirk. “In no time at all, you’ll be back to living your perfect day.”
Perfect day? Like a frog on steroids, my heart launches up into my mouth. I can hardly utter my final question: “Why?”
His expression softens, beating down the bristling creases, and smiles genuinely at me. “Because this is how mankind can live harmoniously. Years ago, we were killing our species off with treacheries such as war and competition. We were in dire requirement of a more mutual way of life, so we came up with this: the continuous cycle of a single. A day that is formatted so everyone is happy every second of every minute of those twenty-four hours. A perfect day! One day completely devoid of aggression, frustration, envy, sadness and lament. One day where you encounter only those who you know and trust thoroughly, thus hindering any chance of disturbance. We are all human, but we have not always acted humanely. By teaching mankind how to think and behave, morality will become second nature to us. We’ll someday be able to develop without conflict, and survive on this planet better than ever!”
And then a syringe with yellowish liquid is injected into my neck. I shudder, the energy oozing out of every pore of my abused body. The man sweeps my golden hair back from my face and says, “Live life peacefully.” Just before I am forced to succumb to Operation: Thoughtlessness and Civil Obedience, I mull over how gloriously demented the expedition to obtaining peace really is.
What’s going on? Where am I?
‘Go to the Roasted Nuts Food Stand. Yum, yum.’
Oh, what a lovely coo… I must oblige.