This is something I started a while back. I’m thinking I might work on it after I finish a short story I’m working on. We follow Seven, a young girl who lives in a world where all children are sent to Keeper Island to be raised after the age of four. They are taught that peace can only be achieved through obedience and conformity, but some of them have a difficult time adhering to this…especially Seven who was a late arrival.
My eyes flutter open at the sound of the morning chime, and I move my lips with the words that sound off through the loudspeaker.
“Pleasant morning, Digits! Three tones ascending means it is time to prepare for the day. If you are not in your uniform before the chime rings with four ascending tones, you will be sent to Temporary Labor Assignment.” Her peppy voice irritates me. We call her Mrs. Evil when no one can hear us. She calls herself Mrs. Goodsby.
“Don’t forget that today is Blue! That means each of you should be wearing your assigned blue jumpsuits. If you are found wearing any other colors, you will be sent to Temporary Labor Assignment.” She sounds like she’s eaten a bowl of sunshine and rainbows. I’d believe it if I ever saw her wear anything but white or her permanent sneer. “Peace through obedience,” she finishes.
I roll my eyes and toss my blanket to the side. Already the fluorescent lights brighten to vision-impairing levels. My feet land on the cold cement floor, sending a shiver throughout. It takes every ounce of will-power for me to stand and move to the sink. It hangs from a drab concrete wall completely devoid of decoration or color. They do not allow mirrors here. Vanity is forbidden.
In this place, I am no one. I have no name, I have no face, and I have no voice. The Keepers control my movements. The chime, loudspeaker, and strict rules remind me that I am nothing but a Digit. Today marks the ten year anniversary of my arrival, and the beginning of the countdown to my escape. One year and counting.
My mother called me Lyla. Most of my friends call me Seven. The digits assigned to me by The Keepers are two four nine. We answer to our three numbers in the presence of The Keepers. When we gather, however, each of us has a name chosen for our distinctive characteristics.
Seven is for the age at which I was forced to join this community of drones. I used to hate that name. I believed my peers wielded it as a weapon of shame for my being different. I’ve come to realize that it is their way of including me in their tiny rebellion.
318, three one eight, once referred to a friend as Red within earshot of a Keeper. We call him Red because he turns that color when he is angry. No one has seen 318 since, and Red blames himself.
My toothbrush grinds against the film on my teeth as the glowing green clock flickers on, seconds counting down to “The Four Chimes.” I have less than ten minutes to dress myself and move into my designated area.
I rush despite the fact that I know I will arrive exactly three minutes ahead of time. Once, I tripped over my own shoe, clumsy teenager that I am, and I was ordered back to my room to walk the path again. Because this caused me to arrive less than one minute after The Fourth Chime, I was sent away for TLA. I have no intentions of that happening again.
I finish refreshing my breath, swish and spit. The cool mint taste is the most flavor-filled experience I will have for a year. Opposite my bed, is a gray steel cabinet where my assigned wardrobe hangs. Each day, Digits are to wear a different color. Today we dress ourselves in a dark blue jumpsuit complete with our three numbers stamped on the back. I slide my foot into the legs, my hands into the arms, and zip it from bottom to top.
The material is scratchy, uncomfortable, and unsuitable for the current season. I dread summer, knowing I will spend most of the day sweating in one hundred degree weather. As soon as I’ve stuffed my feet into a pair of cumbersome black boots and twist my hair into a Keeper-approved bun, I step out of my room and into the corridor.
A few other Digits join me, shuffling their way to the designated area. They walk like I do, zombies functioning at unnatural basic levels. Their eyes water with the gleam of yawn-induced tears. It’s going to be a long, uninteresting day.
125 walks ahead of me, her frazzled black hair sticking out in all directions. Sometimes we call her Fro because of her bushy locks. Her ebony skin seems dulled by the bright lights of this place. In the sun, it comes to life, her face glowing with glistening beads of sweat. The Keepers have forced her to wear brown contacts to hide her color-changing eyes. Anyone with green, blue, or amber eyes must do the same. No Digit is permitted to show their differences. Uniqueness is forbidden.
My stomach grumbles, complaining of its emptiness. Breakfast will be served in one hour. Despite my hunger, I don’t look forward to it. The warm goop tastes like melted cardboard with the texture of slime. The Keepers claim to serve it for its nutritional value. I think it’s another way to keep us from smiling. While smiling is allowed during our thirty minutes of recreation each day, we are expected to remain blank and unemotional for the rest.
I step out of the corridor and into the courtyard, stifling a yawn. If I am caught yawning even once, I will be sent to TLA. The Keepers assume our exhaustion is a result of remaining awake after lights out. According to The Digit’s Guidelines and Rule book, our eyes should close the moment our rooms go dark, and we should sleep within five minutes. Any thoughts that continue afterward are signs of an uncontrolled mind. That is not permitted.
Mrs. Goodsby paces through the courtyard, which is rare. Usually that means there have been a string of incidents. I move to my designated area, sighing quietly enough to go unnoticed. If too many Digits have been cited for misconduct, The Keepers will randomly select fifty of us to be punished accordingly. TLA isn’t the worst punishment a Digit can be dealt. That award goes to CPD, Corporal Punishment Demonstration. For anywhere between one hour and eight, a Digit is forced to stand before a camera and receive a combination of lashings, belittling, and physical torture. The rest of us are made to watch. If we look away, we join them.
I stand straight, hands clenched behind my back, and stare forward. Inspection lasts one hour during which we are required to remain quiet and motionless. Today may take longer, depending on why Mrs. Goodsby has joined us. I allow myself to glance in her direction, stealing a view of the prim and proper woman whose pale lips are always stretched into a scowl.
The tone of her voice betrays her demeanor in every way possible. Her porcelain-white skin shines in the sunlight. Clear blue eyes scan us with a cruel glare. Her red hair is cut short, making her appear even more intimidating. The white dress suit she wears is always ironed to perfection with not a single wrinkle to be seen. Mrs. Goodsby could frighten the monsters in nightmares. Perhaps she is the nightmare.
Before a Keeper can catch me, I return my eyes to a blank stare into nothing. The only aesthetically pleasing view is the sky, but they don’t allow us even that much. There no trees or flowers, no decorations. The compound is as boring as each day that passes. Concrete walls sit on concrete floors. White florescent lights line every corridor and room. The only form of décor is the occasional blue “KI” encircled by a laurel of green leaves. KI, Keeper Island.
I scream inside my head. I’d give anything to see the outside world again. Ten years is too long to go without any true form of happiness. Sometimes I try to picture the faces of my parents as I go through the motions, determined to remain quiet and obedient. I’m one of the few who can still remember life outside. Most of the other Digits arrived before the age of four.
“Designation,” A Keeper says. He stands before me with his digital input device.
“249,” I answer with the flattest tone I can manage.
The Keepers are no less intimidating than Mrs. Goodsby. Their white uniforms conform to their bodies with armored coverings over vital body parts. They wear shapeless white hoods over their heads, hiding their faces from everyone. Each carries a Correction Rod, a short, thick stick-like weapon that electrifies when in contact with human skin. If they feel the weakest setting is not enough for the crime they believe we have committed, the intensity can be increased by one hundred percent.
“Step forward,” he says as he runs his hands over every inch of my body.
Groping is not allowed, but this one’s hands linger over my breasts. I struggle against my rage, straining to keep my screams quiet. I know he can feel me shiver, but he has no reason to cite me. Not that The Keepers ever need reasons. They do as they please.
Rumors once spread about a girl who was sent for CPD for a crime she did not commit. According to The Keeper who cited her, she had been seducing him for weeks. While CPD is used as a weapon of humiliation, rapes are relatively uncommon. In her case, it was administered for the sheer fact that Mrs. Goodsby believed she deserved to know what she asked for. Sickening.
The girl later committed suicide by throwing herself off the top of Keeper Tower. I’m glad I arrived too late to witness it, though I squirm with sickness when I think about it.
“Return,” The Keeper says.
I step back and return to my position, my skin still crawling from his wandering hands. For a moment, I think I might use his Correction Rod on him. The bastard deserves it. However, TLA and CPD are never far from my thoughts. I refuse to suffer because of one Keeper’s folly.
Inspections finally end, and Mrs. Goodsby stands before us. In front of her is a pedestal surrounded by protective glass should anyone decide to throw a random object. I stifle a giggle as I imagine a boot slamming against her stretched face.
She clears her throat and peers out at us without a hint of emotion. “Good morning, Digits of Keeper Island. Peace through obedience.”
“Peace through obedience,” we echo with our collective voices. Those words feel like poison dripping from my lips. We have to repeat them anytime they are heard. When greeting a fellow Digit, our first words must be those. Yet another form of mind control.
“Today marks the fortieth anniversary of Keeper Island’s first round of inductions,” Mrs. Goodsby continues. “We feel that it is time to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of those who have helped to create this safe and clean environment for the youths of our planet. As you all know, my husband, Dr. Goodsby, passed on last year, leaving the continued effort to improve our facility to me. It has not been easy to carry this burden alone, but I strive for greatness all the same. However, I have decided to introduce someone who will only answer to me.”
I tense. The last thing I want to see is another person to push me around. Rules rarely change here and punishments remain consistent, but something about the man stepping up onto the stage causes my breath to catch in my throat. He’s familiar somehow. I know that face, the way he moves, the intensity of his eyes.
Mrs. Goodsby plasters a grin on her face that is shocking to see. Never once have I seen anything more than a sideways mock-grin there. She stretches out a hand to the man moving towards her and puts a skinny arm around his shoulder. “I would like to introduce my son, David Goodsby. He, like you, was once a Digit. After completing his fourteen years on Keeper Island, he chose to go on to study Leadership in Conformity. Now that he has finished his studies, he holds a degree with a specialization in Obedience and Control. Please welcome Mr. Goodsby.”
“Welcome, Mr. Goodsby,” we answer.
He leans into the microphone. “Thank you. Peace through obedience.”
“Peace through obedience.”
My hands shake and my muscles tighten. I know who that man is.