The Wall

The Wall

A Chapter by A.E. Surdam

(POV: Clara)

I wearily stepped out from the back entrance of the dressmaking shop that I worked at, and the moment my feet left the shadowed doorway I was blinded. The bright reflection of light that blared down from the twenty-foot spotlights never failed to obscure my vision. A society without sunlight had its downsides, and eye sensitivity was one of them. I slowly squinted to let my eyes adjust. Tired as I was, I was relieved. I had finally finished fitting the last few dresses from a bulk order for the Talent Trials, which were based on superficial views on beauty and talent. The prettier a dress was meant a higher chance of survival for the contestant.

That wretched old bat, Susie Darla, worked me way past the time I normally clocked out despite my complaints. She became nastier than usual after the orders came flooding in at the last minute. The Trials were in two weeks, so we had plenty of time to work. Instead of listening to reason, she locked me in the sewing room until ten. Because of a nine o'clock curfew, I had to wait until six in the morning before I was able to go home. A hundred years ago, this sort of abuse was illegal, yet now our government stated that if we were paid there wasn't any right to object against our treatment.

I circled around the two-story rundown, brick building that had a fake, plastic garden displayed in front. A faded, cracked sign with the shop's name, Darla's Dresses, hung above the large brown door. I trudged up to the window and looked past the extravagantly dressed mannequins to see that some of the lights were still on. Ms. Darla stayed behind to re-open at eight. Thankfully, she gave me the day off, but I briefly felt guilty at being the only one who would get to sleep. I peered closely at my reflection and moved my body to where I overlapped one of the mannequins. I wore a sleek and formal, red ankle-length dress. I smiled at myself in the window but then laughed at my foolishness, because I could never afford anything so expensive.

I stared harder at the grand image of myself and immediately saw my imperfections. My black, curly hair was frizzy and oily because of the hot, sauna-like sewing room that I had been in for nearly twenty-one hours. I took the hair tie that I kept on my wrist and pulled my hair back into a high pony tail. I ignored the hideous dark circles that swallowed my severe, dark brown eyes, which always reminded me of cream-less, extra-dark coffee. I stepped out of my fantasy dress and returned to the reality of a dye-stained, plain gray top and faded jeans.

Society cared only about outward beauty and flawlessness, for confidence was non-existence in our world. I wanted to love and accept myself for who I was, yet I was constantly forced to analyze and compare myself to others. I already knew that I wasn't the first choice when it came to marriage prospects. Men wanted tall, slim females with light-colored hair and eyes. I glanced over my body and wished I was at least five-four, but I was lucky that I barely made it past five-one. I couldn't help that I was big-boned and curvy, or that my breasts were fuller and heavier than most women. My dad, the mayor, believed that I would lose with my dark hair and eyes. He told me when the time came for me to marry he would find me a husband, but I had plenty of time before I had to wed. All women had to be married at thirty-seven, and men were allowed to remain unwed until they were forty-five.

To participate in the Talent Trials, the contestant must be single, virginal and between the ages of eighteen and thirty-five. Occasionally, a few of the participants were sometimes selected for marriage by a Viewer. Viewers watched the Trials and voted on whom they thought should be winners. If a contestant was chosen for marriage, they had the right to decline. If more than one suitor selected them, the Viewer that offered to pay the most had the right to propose. If their suit was accepted, they would then pay a lump sum to purchase their intended from the government. Ten percent of that money went to their families who remained behind.

The strap from my work bag dug into the side of my neck. I rolled my shoulder to shift the bag, but it remained in place. I bit back a curse and fixed the strap. In my bag, I had five notebooks, three sketchpads, and two reference books that felt more like rocks. I still had to design four more dresses and three suits which were all due in a week. Ms. Darla insisted that I take my sketches home and worked there. I kneaded my temples and willed my headache to cease. She expected me to have the drafts completed by tomorrow morning.

I had an hour and a half walk ahead of me in the overwhelming, muggy heat. The city always smelled like rotting meat. The odor was usually bearable except for this morning. A stray must have died nearby recently for it to smell this bad. Large fans positioned every five miles along the wall kept the city livable for us, yet all that air pollution and smell was blown to the lower districts. I glanced up toward the wall and noticed men in dark blue uniforms. I had forgotten that Ms. Darla mentioned before I left that maintenance work was being done on the fans. She said they would remain off at least until the end of the day. I held my nose and rushed down the cracked sidewalk.

Over fifteen-feet high and five-foot wide, the wall divided our once well-known and prosperous country into two cities. On the left side, the people there were called Lovelies. They were the king's favorites, and as stated by the Prime Minister via TV, forgiveness loved the Lovelies. These people were considered to be everything that was good, beautiful and pure. Lovelies lived within the City of Jewels, though I have never seen nor been there before I have heard that the city was clean and pristine. Everyone was happy and wealthy. Their air was clean, and best of all, they could see the sun and sky.

As Doves, we were forced to reside in Rainsomore. The wall encircled the city and trapped us like caged animals. We were not considered human, for the kingdom of Cathia saw us as disposable objects. The people were split into three districts: Desirable, Gray, and Unwanted. I cannot say much on what the Gray and Unwanted districts looked like, as we were forbidden to travel throughout any districts that were not our own. If entered illegally, the trespassers were banished to be an Unwanted, the lowest caste within the Doves. According to my father, each region was much worse off than our own.

But no matter where we lived within Rainsomore, the sun was not visible through the polluted, hazy atmosphere. To give the Doves light, tall spotlights loomed and swiveled above the wall. Three large factories pumped smog into the air. Two were used to burn coal to generate electricity, while the third cremated the dead. Dirt and soot covered the already rundown businesses, apartments and homes. Sidewalks and streets were unsafe, as they were full of potholes, uneven pavement and cracks.

I crossed the street at a crosswalk and held back a yawn. I refused to inhale anymore of this putrid stench. I was tired and hungry. I passed by a few coffee shops and smelled the rich, freshly grounded beans. I imagined myself as I drank a cup while I enjoyed a warm, flaky biscuit with strawberry jam. The horrible stomachache that plagued me the last time I stopped to eat resurfaced in my memory. The city's smell prevented me from eating anywhere other than home. Despite my hesitance, my belly grumbled its displeasure at my decision. I ignored my stomach and strode down the sidewalk, as I left the pleasant aromas behind.

I walked for another forty minutes before I finally reached the wall. Every Desirable had to pass by a guard checkpoint. Our Ids were checked to verify that we belonged within the district. If we were caught without one, we were sent to jail for twenty-four hours and then brought before a judge. The judge decided on our punishment, but usually the accused were fined for not having proper identification on their person as long as the Id in question could be produced.

In the distance, I noticed that a large crowd stood on brown, faux grass, which was once a dull green but now looked as if it had withered away. Since it was made from plastic-like material, the heat caused the strands to curve in funny directions rather than stand as if freshly manicured.

The crowd's muffled, incoherent voices traveled to me. I didn't need to hear them to know that someone committed suicide again. I passed by the ten-foot metal gate that only opened for soldiers and Talent Trial winners. I finally reached the crowd and pushed my way through until I made it to the front. I stood next to a tall, blonde woman with a sharp nose and chin. I only saw a side view of her. Her face was directed toward a figure that climbed the wall. I watched with the crowd, as I mimicked their horrified whispers. I originally expected to see a dead body and was surprised to see that he hadn't died yet. This was my first time seeing a suicide happen, and as sad as that was, suicides and disappearances happened nearly everyday.

Once the unknown climber reached the top, his screams combined with the eerie, humming of the wall's electric fence. Bright yellow and blue lights darted into various directions, as the man's body shook with violent tremors. The lights suddenly vanished, as his charred corpse plummeted to the ground.

A police van screeched to a halt on the sidewalk, as its sirens blared through the crowd's horrified screams. After the door slid open, four officers jumped out to rush toward the bloody, broken body. Two of the officers forced us to move back for an approaching ambulance to drive onto the grass.

The paramedics carried a stretcher and rushed to the body. Moments later, I heard a voice pronounce that the man was dead. Normally when I walked to work around this time, I saw the aftermath of the suicides. I never bothered to stop, as our shop's patrons usually told me about what had happened anyway. We felt sorry for the person and their family, but we simply moved on with our lives. Like our sleeping cycles, death was a normal occurrence. We woke up every morning and then went to sleep after a long day. It simply happened, so who were we to argue with what was deemed normal?

Yet as I stood there staring at the man's broken, burnt body that smelled like scorched meat and rotten eggs, I realized that I needed to be stronger. I feared this unknown man, for he caused me to question my morals and beliefs. His lifeless face and glassy eyes tore into my soul, and in that moment, I felt that death should not be normal. This man was once like me, a living, breathing person, but he threw it all away and for what? I wanted to shout my realizations to the crowd, but I knew I wasn't able to speak my truth. A law enforced by the police prevented us from openly questioning any laws or unusual occurrences. Though we spoke out about them in secret, we had to do so carefully, for within our community, desperate people spied on their neighbors. They sold information to the government for food and electricity, and while the accused went to court, they were never seen of again.

I glanced at the dead man again before I turned to head home, but the blonde woman beside me reached out to grab my arm. Her unblinking stare bothered me, but then I recognized her as Judy Applegate, an old friend and classmate from high school.

"Wow, Clara? Is that you? It's me, Judy," the doll-like, blonde woman said once she released my arm. As she gave me a big, bright smile, her straight, white teeth drew my attention. "I didn't recognize you at first. You're so much prettier from when we were in high school!"

"Thank you," I responded with an embarrassed laugh. "It's been so long since I have seen you too. And you're beautiful!"

It wasn't a lie. She really was a blinding beauty with long blonde hair that reached past her shoulders. Her face was a little rounder around the jaw from what I remembered of her, and she wasn't as slim either. She had a heart-shaped face and thin blonde eyebrows that arched perfectly over her grayish-blue eyes. They were practically the same color used for the morning sky in the painting Tranquil Bluebirds. The piece was by L. B. Lockwood, and I saw it once when it was on loan from the Lovelies' Museum of Art with other students and adults from my class. I stood and gawked at the painted bluebirds that seemed almost real, as they flew into the rising sun. The darkness fled from the light and casted the sky into a soft gray and blue.

My seventh grade teacher, Mrs. Kenner, told us that talent was everything, and if we were lucky we could move to the City of Jewels just like Lockwood did. I wanted to see the sky too, but to be given that chance, I had to pass the Talent Trials. Judy's eyes reminded me of my desperation and determination to become a Lovely as a child. Today, my desire for a better life has increased ten-fold. I wanted it as much as I needed oxygen to breathe.

Judy chuckled and replied to my earlier compliment, "Oh stop. I'm not that gorgeous! You should see Tara MacDougal. She used the money she had been saving for eight years on plastic surgery. Now she looks one hundred times better! I've always wanted to get surgery. Maybe you should too."

My cheeks ached from my forced smile. I liked Judy, yet whenever we spoke she made me feel so small. She was the popular girl, and I was more of the Don't-Break-the-Rules kind of student. Even though we were from different cliques, we still ended up as friends. I last saw her at graduation, but we didn't part on such great terms. Maybe this time we could move on and be much better friends. Especially since, most of my classmates have either died or failed to pass the Talent Trials. Once you failed and moved to another district, you no longer existed to the higher castes. It's been seven years, and there weren't many of my graduating class left.

"They say that when you make it to the top of the wall, you can see the City of Jewels before you are electrocuted," Judy stated after I didn't respond.

I cleared my throat and replied, "I seriously doubt that. It's not like we can ask them what they saw. They're dead."

"I heard it from my dad who knows a wall patrol soldier. He works for the police, so he knows everything that happens in the city. I find it odd that you're clueless about all of this. Your dad is the mayor. Doesn't he tell you anything?"

I changed the subject and asked, "Are they really suicides? I mean, I don't want to die. I doubt that the man did either."

Judy twirled her hair around her pointer finger. She pursed her lips and then said with a sigh, "Clara, they're suicides. Everyone in this city knows if you climb the wall, you die. That's it. No take-backs. They made that decision to throw their lives away."

"How can you judge them like that? Maybe he had a reason."

"What reason could he have had? He's dead."

We stood in silence and stared at each other. I felt pressured from the awkward atmosphere to speak, so I blurted, "Who climbed the wall?"

"I thought I told you," Judy responded, untangling her hair from her finger.

"No, you haven't said anything."

"I thought I did," she murmured and then took a step closer. "I heard earlier this morning that he planned this weeks ago."

I straightened with my fists at my sides. I closed my eyes momentarily to take a deep breath before I asked in a soft voice, "But if they knew, why didn't the police stop him?"

"You can't save everyone, Clara," Judy replied with a roll of her eyes. "You have to let these things go and move on. Like I said, he's dead, and there isn't anything you can do about it."

I swallowed the words in my mouth. My lips were dry, and my tongue kept sticking to the back of my teeth. I still didn't understand this obsession with letting death happen, but I wasn't any better. Until this point, I lived my life while people kept dying. So how could I fault Judy for the way she was taught to think? So instead of saying that she was wrong, I asked, "Was he someone that I knew?"

Judy glanced around before she said, "Roger McNeil."

"RJ from our class?"

"You didn't know? RJ failed the Trials a second time three years ago. He's a Gray now."

"What? I never heard anything about this. Wait, then who climbed the wall?"

She whispered near my ear, "His dad, Roger Sr. The police chief."

As if she had been eavesdropping, a modishly dressed woman with red hair pulled up in a high bun turned toward us with wide eyes and a furrowed brow. She had on gray glasses with pale pink lipstick, a gray sweater and black pants. The tall, overzealous woman moved closer and asked, "McNeil is dead?"

Random people from the crowd repeated the outburst and then circled Judy and I. They spit curses and insults at us, as they became angrier and louder because of Judy's silence. The woman reached out and grabbed Judy's arm, and she leaned in closer to peer into her face. "What do you know," she questioned when Judy remained stoical. "They can't protect us anymore from them. Is that why he killed himself?"

"Let go of me," Judy finally shouted, as she fought to pull her arm away from the woman's death grip.

I stepped in and repeated, "Release her." When the awful woman didn't move fast enough, I pushed her away from Judy and said, "We don't know anything."

She glared at me, not recognizing who I was, and pulled a business card out from one of her pockets. "My name is Debbie Rosenburg," she said and handed the card to Judy. "I am the voice for the people. They have the right to know about the police chief's death."

Judy looked at the card and spat out, "You're just a reporter for the News Bureau. How are you the people's voice? All you do is print lies in your newspaper."

Debbie took out a small notepad and quickly scribbled on the page with an ink pen. "Go on? So how did you know the chief planned his death? Was your father, the Chief's second in command, in on it?"

Judy took an angry step forward and reached out to strike Debbie. I lunged for my friend and held her back. The crowd surrounded us and yelled with their fists raised to the sky. Even though most of these people probably had no idea what was going on, they used our situation to vent. We lived afraid to raise a family, enjoy our lives, and speak the truth. I felt their emotions swell within my chest. I wanted to shout that Judy was just another person lost within the system even though I knew my words would fall on deaf ears.

A tall, brunette male in a black suit and a red tie roared, "Tell us the truth."

"You're with them, aren't you?" A woman shouted from behind me.

The crowd moved closer, so to protect Judy, I positioned myself between them. I felt their hands on my back, as they pushed me against her. I elbowed a random man who tried to pull me into the crowd and away from Judy. He grabbed the back of my shirt and yanked me off my feet. When Judy screamed for the man to let me go, he immediately released my shirt after she scratched his face with her fingernails.

"I'm sorry," Judy suddenly cried. "I only know who he was. I don't know anything else." Her face was pale with fear. She caught herself from falling when a bearded older man tried to trip her with his cane.

Debbie stepped forward and raised her hands to the mob. She shouted, "Enough. I appreciate your support, but leave these young women alone. Go about your business." She dropped her arms and then motioned for us to come closer, which we did. She whispered, "If you end up remembering anything, you have my contact info." She smirked and then leaned closer. "Especially since your father will be promoted to the new police chief." Debbie gave a smug smile before she waved goodbye and strolled through a group of nearby spectators.

Judy crumpled the white and black sleek business card and growled, "Did you hear what she said?" She paused, so I thought she wanted me to answer her question. Before I could open my mouth to reply, she ranted, "I'll get my revenge. Daddy knows a guy, and he'll -"

I cut her off and advised, "I wouldn't go around saying that in public, Judy. Someone will use it against you. Plus, that awful woman is probably still listening to us." I glanced away with a sigh. She chewed on her bottom lip, as she contemplated my words. I wanted to tell her that she made her dad sound like a bad guy. My mouth moved, and the words left me before I had a chance to sensor myself, "Don't make your dad into a murderer."

She remained silent while her gaze traveled over my face. She shrugged her shoulders. "Whatever. Fine, you're right. I hope we never run into that damned reporter again," she grumbled while she strode through the crowd.

I expected more of a reaction to my statement, yet she seemed as though it didn't bother her. I felt cold and shivered when her words finally dawned on me. Goosebumps plagued my skin. I decided to follow after her, so I could escape the many eyes that watched me. I stood next to Judy on the sidewalk. I managed to brush off my body's odd reaction to her cold attitude, so I could reply to her earlier comment.

"You'll probably never see her again. Unless something horrible ends up happening to you again."

Judy elbowed me in the side and muttered, "Don't jinx me, Clara. There's no wood for me to knock on. I could always use your head."

I giggled, feeling much more comfortable with her and dodged her hands. "Nice try, Judy. How about knocking on your own head."

"Don't blame me if we get into trouble again, Clara."

Judy laugheed, as we strolled down the sidewalk. We stopped, as we neared the other side of the incident near a large pharmacy. We watched under a dim lamp and caught the last moments of the paramedics' clean-up. The onlookers departed after the ambulance drove off.

I sighed, "That was depressing." Judy nodded to my statement. I then asked, "Do you still have her business card?"

Judy pulled the wad of paper from her pocket to show me before returning it. "I thought about ripping it up and throwing the blasted thing into her face. But I changed my mind. I'm telling daddy about her when I get home. She'll regret embarrassing me."

I didn't respond to her brazen statement. We walked in silence until the sirens faded. We turned onto a street lined with shops and restaurants.

"Clara, if I told you something would you keep it to yourself?"

I stopped but she took a few more steps past me. "After everything we went through earlier? Of course I would. Don't you trust me?"

Judy avoided my eye contact and my question, as she confessed, "I lied to those people, Clara, I know why that man died."

© 2018 A.E. Surdam

My Review

Would you like to review this Chapter?
Login | Register

Request Read Request
Add to Library My Library
Subscribe Subscribe


Added on November 11, 2018
Last Updated on November 11, 2018
Tags: fantasy, romance, fiction, mythical creatures, war, resistance, kingdom, monsters, society, prince, races, romance-fantasy, strong female lead, utopia, dystopian, young-adult, horror, first-person


A.E. Surdam
A.E. Surdam

Picayune, MS

My pen name is A.E. Surdam, and I am a writer. I attended Stephens College and graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 2014. Afterwards, I gained my Master of Arts degree from Southern New Hampshire.. more..