They chose the former cable building because it was already wired for alarms. At first, the sirens howled every night, hours of screeching panic that shattered dreams and made a city of insomniacs. The noise was so hellish, so rending, that hospitals were deluged with fatal heart attacks. Babies born within those months have a peculiar tonal deafness. They are terrible musicians, prone to tics and schizophrenic mood disorders.
The sirens slowed, then stopped, once the executions started. By the time the jails were empty, swept clean and disinfected, the noise was just a bitter memory no one wished to claim. And if the city had completely lost its capacity to dream, no one talked about that either. No one talked about the Portal.
They were expected to forget, but Roslyn Withers did nothing but remember. She worked inside the building, Level One cafeteria staff, mopping floors and swiping tables with a noxious disinfectant. Her mother’s idea, from start to end. There were a lot of children of defectors in the building’s lower ranks, trying, like Roslyn, or her mother, to scrub the tarnish off their names. They all passed each day beneath the Guardians. Roslyn wondered if the others felt those eyes like bullets, aiming for the slightest tremble in the knees.
Did they know she could remember? Worse yet, had everyone else forgotten, truly, the world before the purge? All the history books described a time of chaos, promiscuity and indulgence dressed up in the guise of freedom. Too many choices, too much diversity and variation. The Guardians came and trimmed it all, cut away the random and the fluid, sent the ebb and flow of “freedom” to a place they conjured and contained, the world beyond the Portal.
(Roslyn heard the pulse of it, the steady, throbbing hum of exiled opportunity. It must be in her blood, she thought. After all, her father . . . well, he had failed like all the rest, jailed and hung, bodies swinging from the gates. )
Now, everyone was blessed with an ordered, tidy, metric life. (Pale, she thought, and shriveled.) People understood their place. No more striving, multiplicity, or indecision. No more pesky choices, like bees along the nape.
Roslyn wondered why they didn’t simply close the gate, seal it up with mortar, blast the opening to dust. Why leave the weak, the wounded, open to temptation? But, then again, she was her father’s daughter. Roslyn understood. This was the final, quiet stage of culling, a lure to catch the ones who are unwilling to forget.
Once or twice a year, alarms still split the night. She waits for them to stop completely. She waits for a silence that is definite and smug. In her dreams, she sees the Guardians complacent, unaware that she is coming. In her dreams, she splits the surface of the portal like an overripe and rotten fruit. She is drenched and nearly drowned in everything released. In her dreams, she sees the stone eyes weep.
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