I've hesitated about doing this for a long time, but I figured "Why not?"
While some people like to smoke pot or go to Disneyland for fun, I like to write. Yeah, I find it enjoyable. Sometimes, anyway. In the summer after my senior year of high school I started writing a story that was inspired by my reading of 1984. I basically wanted to do a dystopia-type novel on a draconian future American school. I named it Pennyroyal Tea because the Nirvana song seemed very apporpriate for what I wanted to convey.
Ever since that summer, I've been working on it off and on. I've finished it several times, but then I always go back and change a bunch of things. It's about as finished as it will ever be.
Since it'll probably never see the light of day anyway, I supposed posting some parts of it here can't hurt. Here's the beginning few pages. Enjoy it or if you're Zach, fall asleep to it.
Just follow 1593.
She lined up behind a short, frumpish girl with braided black hair that stopped short at the shoulders. Now all 1594 had to do was stand behind this girl, mimic 1593’s movements, keep her own head straight up, her shoulders back and her mouth closed.
Half-an-hour earlier during the school orientation, Erica Windon dozed off while a never-ending cadre of school officials approached the central podium and preached whatever it was that they preached. She did not know or care about what they said because a slideshow of her favorite band, Morality, reeled through her mind instead. A pop band comprised of five wholesome, young men, the group sang righteous, melodic tunes about teenage romance, familial bonds and charity towards others. Most of all, they were hot. She fancied Shane in particular - the black-haired, pointy-jawed rebel with a heart of gold - and she paid all her attention to his visage that morning, that body of stone bursting through a skin-tight, black leather jacket, that stubble of facial hair peeking out from his strong chin. All for her and her alone. He looked straight at her – right through her – and he ignored everyone else. She tried to hide her proud smile.
Once the presentations finished, all the freshmen of Expend.com High School stood up and marched with militaristic precision out of the Gopher Industries Memorial Auditorium (GIMA). Erica had no idea where to go so, as she had done all morning, she tailed 1593. Her shepherd, dressed in white dress pants and a white suit jacket like every other freshman, guided Erica to her current location in a lifeless room nestled in the southwest corner of the first floor.
1592, a pale little red-headed boy with a nervous twitch in his left arm, conversed with a man at a rectangular table set up in front of the room, but Erica paid them short shrift. She surveyed her surroundings instead, swashed in a whirlpool of white. To her left sat 50 students dressed exactly alike except with different faces. Even then, the distinctions seemed immaterial. Most sported white skin, white outfits and they sat on bright white chairs which rested on a cloudy white-tiled floor. The table for which she waited dutifully in line was topped with pearl-white plastic and contrasting black computer screens.
1592 finished and walked to his left to another white table where a group of three elderly ladies administered to him. Erica hung her head and stared at the floor, blocking out the booming, masculine voice that shot a shiver through the entire room. She did not have many talents, but she could tune out the outside world almost at a moment’s notice.
A minute passed before 1593 followed in the path of 1592. Her turn had finally come.
Erica nodded. The man’s appearance almost knocked the wind out of her chest. Adorned in black blazer and a yellow dress shirt stretched to its limits by a sizeable gut, he could not have differentiated himself more from the whiteness of the room had he appeared naked or painted his skin red. His gaunt face and balding brown hair were not remarkable, but a mist of hostility seemed to hover about him, like the haze from a bonfire. His creamy brown eyes popped out from his wrinkled skin like a periscope just inching its way past the surface of an ocean. His wavy forehead extended up to the middle of his scalp while thin, smooth bristles of brown hair formed a semicircle around his skull. His lips pursed, he reviewed the screen before him as he scratched his scaly skin, which dangled off his neck like the gullet of a turkey. His face looked like that of a starving man or a lung cancer patient, but his protruding stomach betrayed his eating habits.
“Nice to have you here at Expend.com High School. We don’t hope for your best because we already know we will get it,” he said with a wispy air of satisfaction. His monotone voice unnerved her.
“I…yeah,” was all she could muster.
“Here are your assignments,” the man said, handing her a silver data card no bigger than his thumb while turning his computer screen around so she could read the bold green letters.
HISPANIC STUDENT ASSOSICATION (HSA)
REACHOUT BROADCAST SIGNAL (RBS)
She crunched her nose as she read them.
“Excuse me,” she said.
“What was that?” he asked.
“Excuse me. I-”
“Sir,” he said.
“You will address me as ‘Sir.’ Understand?”
She glanced nervously behind her to all the faces and then back at the man in black and yellow.
“I’m sorry, sir,” Erica said. “I have a question. It says here that I’m in the Hispanic Student Association.” She extended her hand to point to the screen, but he turned it back to his direction and sneered
“I know what it says, 1594. I’m the one in charge of the assignments. Some may prefer the term ‘Latino,’ but we value our traditions.”
“Yes, of course, sir. It’s just that I’m not Hispanic. My great grandmother on my mother’s side was from Portugal, but that’s it.” Holding out her arms, she proclaimed, “As you can see, I’m as white as you can get.” He did not say a word, which jogged her memory. “Sir.”
“You’re Hispanic,” he said.
“Most of my ancestors are British-”
“Hey, Janine!” he called out. One of the elderly ladies, the one in the middle with an inviting round face and plush cheeks, raised her head to acknowledge him.
“Yes, Mr. Lamond.”
“Do you hear someone talking?”
“Why, no I don’t, sir.”
“Yeah, me neither.”
He looked up at her and raised his eyebrows. Gulping, she dropped the subject and waited for new directions.
“Glad to hear you don’t have any other comments. Now head on over to that desk over there and Janine will make sure to set you up very nicely.”
Jaw shivering, she strolled to the desk. Janine did not even bother to look up, instead motioning to the attendant to her right. That elderly woman actually made eye contact and ordered Erica to hand over the data card and look straight ahead. Hiding in the middle of the wall was a glistening camera lens the size of a coaster. She stared straight at it. The woman pushed a button and Erica heard a click and then the humming of a small printer on an adjacent table. It popped out a laminated card, which Janine picked up and handed over along with the data card.
“Here you go, young lady.”
Erica dropped the data card in her pocket, grabbed her Expend.com High School identification card and studied it as she headed back to her seat. The school’s name and insignia, a muscular hand with all five fingers stretched to their capacity, filled up the top of the card. To the right was a small square that stored her face. Her black hair, which she had tied up in a tight bun earlier that morning on her mother’s orders, was barely visible in the box. She saw her blue eyes, high cheekbones, button-like nose and thin lips that appeared to her in the mirror every morning. She saw those features but, they all seemed separated from each other, a hodgepodge of random items with no common purpose.
It was her picture, just a different face.
The classroom she needed to find was in Section F. If the giant F’s all over the walls were any indication, she had found the right section. While trekking to her class, she kept replaying her confrontation with the man in black, the Mr. Lamond.
What the hell was that guy’s problem? You’d think, on the first day, they would at least try to be nice.
Students packed the sterile hallways, clapping their new shoes on the green tiles and admiring the advertisements on the walls as they walked to class. They did not talk or joke with each other. The ads did the speaking for them. The ads were the entertainment. Most of them hocked new snacks or fad clothing or teenager movies. Nothing spectacular, except for one ad for Morality’s upcoming record. All five band members mucked for the cameras, for her eyes only. Their new album, titled “Completely For You,” would be coming out in three days and this fact alone almost erased from her mind the humbling experience with Mr. Lamond.
“Welcome to Expend.com High School, class of 2086,” a voice said from above. She looked up to see a speaker hanging indiscreetly from the ceiling. “I’m 711, the host of the award-winning RBS. Before class starts today, everyone should know that Xstacy Soda will be hosting a company orientation after school in the HGBD.net Cafeteria. You can win free Xstacy products while tasting their great new drink, Orange Watermelon!”
Erica passed an escalator that ascended four stories and gazed at it in wonderment. A sturdy male student dressed in a green suit cut in front of her and took the moving stairs. He must be a senior, she thought. She noticed a multitude of merit badges from various sponsors stitched on the lapel of his suit jacket. That kid meant business.
“This announcement was brought to you by the kind folks of Cranston Information Network, tomorrow’s leader in the safety information business-”
She continued on until finally coming upon her room after passing hundreds of doors and even more advertisements. With the same square footage of a mall and just as aggressive on the senses, even the simple task of finding a classroom in the Expend.com High School building required diligence, a trait Erica did not want to exact on her first day of school. Her only goal: survive the day.
The classroom looked exactly as she had imagined. The students sat in ten rows of stadium seating with each personal desk accompanied by a Neo5000 personal laptop. The teacher’s desk, devoid of any personal artifacts, stood squarely in the middle, flanked from behind by a giant projection screen. A soft green carpet and dim lights ushered in a welcoming feeling to any newcomers and made it easier to read the high-definition screens.
After everyone became situated, a slender woman with veins the size of a garden hose snaking their way on her hands appeared from nondescript door at the far end of the room. Dressed in a pinstriped business suit, she stood behind her desk and surveyed the new crop of future CEO’s, future heart surgeons, future data entry specialists. The lights dimmed immediately and the word “Engram” ballooned up on the projection screen.
“Engram…the lifeblood of the American educational system,” said a brisk feminine voice. “In the dark ages of our school system, grammatical mistakes, literary ignorance and the mutilation of the official language of our country were common practice among wayward youth. Today, 95 percent of all students know their language as well as they know their own family.”
Erica surveyed the students around her, who all diligently watched the presentation. Their eyes did not blink as much as hers. Their cheeks were not as red nor eyes quite as furtive.
The feminine voice went on and on about the requirements for the course and the essential importance Engram held in American life. Vital to success. American values. Enrich the mind to enrich yourself. All the keywords the school system had weaned Erica on since her formative years. The same words, the same phrases every year, all presented in a slightly different manner. After the presentation ended, the lights remained dim and a new phrase appeared on the screen.
“If you learn only one term this class, it must be this one,” the teacher said into a slender cordless microphone. “What we teach you is all you need to know. The rest is just clutter.” Like a theatrical production, the room brightened up, the laptops turned themselves on and the teacher pointed in Erica’s general vicinity.
“What’s your name,” the teacher asked. “The pretty little girl with black hair in the back row. What’s your name?”
Pointing to herself, Erica asked, “Me?”
“No, what’s your name?” the teacher asked more forcefully.
“Good. What is ‘A Tale of Two Cities?’ ”
“Um….I have no idea, sir.” Her heart stalled until she corrected herself. “M’am.”
“You have never heard of it?”
“Should I have?”
“No, because it does not matter. It’s useless knowledge.”
“How come it’s useless?” Erica asked.
The teacher glared at her. “You’re asking me a question?” Erica’s mouth opened to respond, but she could not utter a word. A strangling silence infested the room and a burning sensation fulminated underneath her sternum. “Sit down.” Erica plopped down into her seat and bowed her head in shame. From the corner of her eye, a fellow female student with braces sneered at her for a second. Every step she took and every word from her mouth seemed to bring on derision from somebody. Her first day at school was supposed to be some exotic journey of enlightenment and discovery. Right then, it felt more like being burned at the stake. So much for surviving ...
“When the first state-wide tests are administered in four weeks, you will now the ins and outs of every possible question and every imaginable topic,” the teacher continued. “Anything - and I mean anything - that does not pertain to said test does not exist and it doesn’t exist because it doesn’t matter.”
The teacher looked around to make sure her point went through to the blossoming minds before her. Satisfied, she began the lesson.