Christmas – a Word from the Past
Jason and I stepped out of the coffee shop and back into the clear evening air. It was cold. I could feel snow trying to move in on the city.
“I’ll drive you home, Christy.” Jason motioned to a car parked by the curb.
Jason had an individually owned motor vehicle! I slid into the sleek black car and felt guilty, guilty because an automobile ride was for only a few of Society’s most valued citizens. Physicians, police, and those on the fire department couldn’t wait for Public Transit before responding to an emergency. It wouldn’t be quite so tragic if the fire or robbery was at a low-producing citizens’ home. But, what if the emergency were in the home of an official of the government or other professional person? Delay wouldn’t be tolerated. I shuddered as I heard myself justifying such elitist thoughts. Why were some lives considered more important than others?
I understood Jason’s need for a car. Being a physician, he was expected to be on call for emergencies, and his car had to be kept in top condition.
“This is nice,” I marveled as I ran my fingers over the hand sewn leather cushions of the expensive vehicle. “It must be nice to drive such a car.”
“Yes, it is,” Jason said. “Since so few automobiles are made, the old production lines have become a thing of history. Can you believe cars are made by hand now, one at a time? If the government didn’t subsidize the exorbitant price, I wouldn’t be able to afford it.”
We drove through the late evening streets where lights twinkled off the glassy surface of the damp pavement. “Oh Jason, just look at the Gifting lights. They are breathtaking. I hadn’t even noticed so many of them had been put up.”
“They just finished them late this afternoon. We’ve both been a little busy today.”
How could the evil that Silas described possibly exist alongside such beauty? The poor man was mad.
“It’s in the next block.” I motioned to the large apartment complex on the right. “You can park out front since you’re a doctor and I’m . . . well, all that and . . . never mind . . . right there.”
Jason parked in the emergency vehicle space and then reached over and took my hand. “You apparently don’t like to refer to yourself as Legacy either.”
“Jason, you’re no different. You hide behind your physician’s white coat and no one knows you’re Legacy.” I stopped. I didn’t want to be rude or start an argument. “I’m sorry.”
“You can flash those gorgeous hazel eyes at me any time.” He took a deep breath and looked out the window. “I’ve read a lot, Christy. I’ve discovered that no one is better than anyone else. We are all precious in the heart of the Creator.” He looked at the brightly decorated tree in the small space in front of the building. “The lights are great though. I enjoy the Gifting season when everything is bright and full of celebration.”
“That’s why I enjoy this season so much too. I wonder who started the tradition of lights at Gifting time? I have never even thought about it before.” Suddenly, with Jason, I was seeing everything in new ways, and my curiosity was mounting about everything around me.
“The lights may have begun with the Sabbath lights around the Jewish family’s evening table. Certainly, from what I have read, there was a light from Heaven that shown the night the Christ child was born. That star led believers to a humble manger in Bethlehem; no doubt that is what inspired the lights at Gift-giving time.”
“The Christ, Jason? Who or what is the Christ?” I had never heard that name before.
“He was the promised one, Christy. You’ll read about him in the new section of your Bible.” He smiled. “The Gift-giving lights are also reminiscent of the lighted tapers in the churches of old, which represented the presence of the Holy Spirit. Look over there at the house across the way,” he whispered as if the inhabitants would hear us talking about them. “Those folks are like our early ancestors who put up a tree in their home and decorated it with bright bulbs. See them twinkle,” he pointed. “A very long time ago, before people had old fashioned electrical lighting, families carefully placed candles on each branch and lit them only on Christmas Eve. Fire could have taken the tree and the whole house, but the candle light was too beautiful to miss out on.”
“Christmas Eve?” I had read about Christmas in some of the novels I cherished the most, but I was surprised to hear the words spoken aloud. The word Christmas was forbidden, because it was too exclusive to one group and therefore offensive to a few. “In my books, everyone seemed so happy at Christmas time, so full of love and acceptance.” A strange feeling gripped me. The stars of the night were lighting the dark places in my heart. Tears flowed down my cheeks. As I touched my face, Jason pulled me into his arms.
“It’s all right Christy. Those are tears.”
“Tears? I’ve never cried before. And I’m not sad. I don’t think I have ever been sad enough to cry.”
“There were other reasons why people used to cry besides sadness. In fact, joy could bring some people to tears. Also, being touched by the heart of God brought many people to tears.”
“God’s own heart? The Creator is like us? He has a heart?”
“We’re like him, Christy, but he is not like us. He’s bigger and more wonderful than our minds can ever understand. He is outside of time and outside of our ability to fully know him. If we could understand him, we would be God and . . . trust me, we are not God.”
We sat there a few more minutes. I didn’t want to go in. Everything was so new. It was hard to bend my mind around such strange, unheard of shapes and concepts. I wanted to talk more but, what would people say if I brought Jason into my living space? I thought for a minute and it didn’t seem to matter what other people thought any more. Not since . . . Could it be possible that things started to change just this morning? “Jason, do you want to come in for a little while?” Then I remembered, “Jason, your nurse Dahlia lives in my building.”
“Maybe we won’t see her,” Jason laughed.
Even with the cold outside, it was nice in the quiet of the car. I squeezed Jason’s hand and felt his warmth. “You follow behind me and I’ll check the hallway, but I have to tell you, I’m on the top floor. If no one is in the lobby, there may still be people in the elevator.”
“I’m game. I can handle another adventure tonight.”
We started to get out of the car and then Jason said, “Wait here.” He jumped out and walked around the car, opened the door for me and offered his hand to help me to the sidewalk. “My Lady,” he smiled.
“Wow, what book did you read that in?”
“None. My father always treated my mother with that kind of respect. He held her chair for her, walked on the curb side of the sidewalk when they were out for a stroll, held her hand, and opened the door for her.”
“They remind me of my family, my parents, and especially my grandparents.” We hurried along to the front door. The night air was chilled and frost had gathered on the front steps. “Do your parents live here in town?”
“No, Christy, they died two years ago. They were driving in the mountains and the road was icy. They slipped off the pavement and died in the crash.”
“Oh, I’m so sorry,” I said.
I looked through the large heavy glass window of the front door and saw no one in the hall. As Jason opened the door, I wanted to say words of comfort, but I had no experience to guide me. “Jason, I’m not good at this feeling stuff, but I am truly sorry you lost your parents so early. They were Legacy and would have lived long lives.”
“Thanks Christy,” he smiled.
Not many people in 2112 even remembered any feeling words. But, it didn’t matter. The people had lost all empathy for one another by that time.
“The shock has passed,” he reassured me, “but the love remains. I miss them every day.” He smiled. “I’m glad I found you.” The touch of his hand held warmth that had the power to melt my own loneliness.
The First Christmas Carols
Jason and I looked through the heavy glass windows in the door to my apartment building. When we saw no one between the door and the elevator, we went in. Then we heard them. To the left of the brightly lit entry, a few people had gathered around the piano.
Jason rolled his eyes in surrender. “Caught,” he mouthed in silence.
Dahlia smiled from across the room. She looked like someone who had just gotten an inside joke or secret. “Doctor,” she sang out in a well, drawn out stream, “and My Lady.” She started over toward us. “Sorry. I remember. It’s Christiana.” As she came nearer, she threw her arms open as an old friend would prepare to embrace a childhood chum.
“I’m so glad to see you two again . . . together.” She flung her arms around me and hugged me as a friend. “Does together have a different meaning for Legacy Citizens than it does for us common people?”
She touched me. It felt good. Except for my family, and now Jason, I was never in close contact with others. People could have been arrested for touching me.
“I’m glad to see you too, Dahlia.” I looked at my new friend and then at Jason. “Please Dahlia, don’t . . .”
”I don’t tell people everything I know, and nothing of what I suspect.” She hugged me again, then stepped back and whispered, “Merry Christmas.”
“Dahlia, you know? How?” Jason seemed as surprised as I was. We knew there were only a few Bible books still in existence.
“Yes, Dr. O’Reilly, I know a little bit. I was hoping Christiana could teach me more.”
“Me? But, Dahlia, I’m just learning myself.”
“But there’s something inside of you, Christiana. You glow from within. He’s alive in you.”
I was shocked, “Who, Dahlia?”
“Come accompany us, Dahlia, so we can sing some more,” someone called from the piano.
“They look like they’re having so much fun.” I watched the people laugh and touch and be together. I had never seen people interact like that before, except for my own family.
“Would you like to join us? We’re going to sing more Christmas songs.”
“Dahlia, it’s forbidden. Aren’t you afraid?”
“Not anymore,” Dahlia took my hand and led me over to the piano. “Christiana, there are a lot of us now. This is the group I told you about.”
“Is Silas Drummond with you tonight?”
“Silas? No. He works nights, but I haven’t seen him all day. There were some Blue Shirts in here looking for him earlier.”
“Blue Shirts? Why?”
“I don’t know, except they said he wasn’t at work at 3:00 p.m. as usual.”
I gasped as I thought of Silas’s warning. What was going on?
“How many are in your group?” Jason asked. He seemed mystified by the gathering. He didn’t yet know about Silas.
Could it be possible that there were many seekers? How could a new spiritual revival have gone undetected by anyone, especially the Blue Guard?
“I can’t give you numbers right now, but there are a lot of us who celebrate Christmas rather than Gift-giving Day. The number grows all the time.”
“How do you know it’s safe to talk about these things? If new people are joining your group every day, how do you know whom you’re talking to? Maybe you’ll say something and someone will turn you in.” Jason was concerned for Dahlia as a friend, not just an employee. She could be arrested and jailed.
“We . . .” she studied us both very carefully, “we have a way of identifying each other.”
“Can you tell us how?” Jason smiled and placed a kind hand on her shoulder. “I really want to know, Dahlia.”
“Two ways,” she whispered. “First, we say, ‘I’m Thomas’s friend,’ since Thomas doubted until he saw the Savior’s hands with his own eyes. We have been in darkness, too. Then we were told a great mystery which many of us didn’t believe at first. But, then the truth grew within us, and we knew, we just knew.”
“Dahlia,” the singer called again.
“Okay, I’m coming,” she laughed and walked away.
“Dahlia, what’s the other way?” We followed her as she joined the group.
Dahlia smiled at us and pressed her index finger to her lips. “Come join us.”
“I don’t know any songs,” I protested. Few people sang any more. There never seemed to be anything to sing about, no romance, no disappointment, no longing or striving, no inspiration. Besides, most music had been banned.
“I’ve heard you humming when you’ve stepped off the elevator,” Dahlia insisted.
“I have heard you, too,” the man from the bus chimed in.
“Do you live here?” I knew I recognized him from the P-T that morning, but I hadn’t been aware of having seen him before that. I stepped closer to Jason and took his arm.
“No, I don’t live here but I saw you at the university when we were both working on our Master’s degrees,” the man smiled a knowing smile, like he knew me better than I knew him.
A shiver ran up my spine, and I wondered what else I hadn’t been aware of.
“What’s your name?” Jason asked.
“I’m sorry. My name is Sean.” He offered his hand in friendship, an archaic display of nonviolence, known for spreading germs. I reached out my hand and took his. It was warmer and friendlier than I expected. I liked the gesture. “I got my graduate degree in Communications Journalism.” Then he stopped abruptly, cautious but confident. He lowered his voice and whispered, “Dahlia said you two can be trusted.” He paused and looked from Jason to me. “I . . . publish an underground newspaper.”
“A newspaper? I’ve heard of those,” I gasped.
“Where did you hear of a newspaper?” Sean asked suspiciously. Newspapers had been abandoned nearly a hundred years ago when other forms of fast news dissemination flooded the market.
I thought for a moment. “I read about them.”
“Come,” Dahlia took my arm and led me to the group near the piano. “There is music in your soul, Christiana. Everyone can sing, at least in their own way. Even the angels in Heaven communicate through song.”
Angels? My mind was overflowing. I had read about angels and about people who sang when they were happy and sang when they were sad. I had even seen the words of Christmas songs printed on pages of song books I had read, but I had never heard the melodies or felt them resounding in my mind. I didn’t know their meaning.
“Your heart will recognize the tunes,” Dahlia assured us.
She sat at the piano and ran her fingers up and down the keys, chord upon beautiful chord. I wondered where she had learned how to play.
Obviously, I had seen the piano in the corner of the gathering room before and never gave it further attention. Why had I not wondered about it before? If music had been banned, why was there still a musical instrument in the building? Then I remembered what the building manager had said. She had described it as a work of art. Maybe the manager was right in her thinking but only partially. She may have confused the instruments of music with objects of art, like sculpture or paintings. She had said, “Isn’t it a beautiful piano?” like it was a fine art statue. How very strange. For a hundred years, people had rejected the sound but not the form.
It was a wonderful evening of music—Christmas carols Dahlia had called them. We sang about a baby who slept in a manger because there was no room for him in the Inn. Angels sang alleluias from the heavens to announce his birth and to glorify God for his precious gift, just like Jason had described. Dahlia was right. The music went deep within me and then streamed forth from the depths of my soul, and . . . I knew, but I didn’t yet know that I knew.
Forbidden Singing Heard
Out on the streets, people were going in for the night. As Stoner drove through neighborhoods, he noticed a small group of people sitting on the steps of an apartment building, talking. If he had the capacity for enjoyment, Stoner would have appreciated the solitary quietness of the evening as he drove around the city in the frosty air. Sometimes, he just had to get away from people. For someone who worked with the public every day, he had a growing disdain for most everyone. The truth was, he didn’t like himself much either. He could only tolerate a short amount of alone-time. He was not his own best company.
The long evening hours had been uneventful, so the silent vibration of his communication device startled him. He tilted his head slightly as a voice spoke quietly in the ear piece buried beneath his skin near the bone behind his ear. “Inspector, I hate to bother you. Your location indicator places you near Indian River Apartments.”
“I just passed it,” Stoner spoke into the emptiness of the night.
“It’s the craziest thing. Someone has reported that they heard singing coming from the building?” the dispatcher reported.
“Singing? You’re kidding, right?”
“No, Sir,” she apologized.
“Singing was banned a long time ago. No one has sung in nearly a century. How would they know how? Who knows any songs?”
“I don’t know, Sir. I’m sorry to have bothered you.”
“No, Dispatch. I don’t know how they’re singing, but I’ll check on it.” The very thought of songs being sung assaulted his ears. Stoner made a U-turn in the street and headed the few blocks back to the Indian River Apartments.
He didn’t hesitate. He parked his strata-car in front of the building and stormed to the entrance. He thrust open both double doors and burst into the apartment building lobby. In the large gathering room to the left, a group of people were sitting around on sofas or chairs, and a few were casually lounging on the floor. A piano art piece was present but no one was trying to play it. Who could have? It seemed to Stoner, they were apparently listening to a speaker who was leading them in a chant of some sort.
“Spending money carefully,
Gifting Day is nearly here
Raise a cup and shout a cheer.
Hip, Hip, Hay! Hip, Hip Hurrah!
Happy, happy, Gifting Day,
When I spend up all my pay
giving gifts to everyone,
is my duty and my fun.
Hip, Hip, Hay! Hip, Hip, Hurrah!”
“Very good everyone, we . . .” the speaker stopped when she saw the inspector who stood listening impatiently. “May I help you, Sir?”
“There was a report that singing was heard coming from this building,” he snapped.
“Singing, Sir?” Dahlia questioned. “Song was banned a long time ago. I would think that most people wouldn’t even know how to sing, Inspector.”
“Someone reported hearing music and singing nevertheless.”
“Oh . . . maybe they heard our chants.” She glanced toward the piano. “People don’t even know how to play one of those beautiful instruments any more. They are graceful and lovely aren’t they?” She smiled sweetly. “The chants may sound silly, but I find they’re a good way to remember some of Society’s important points.” She turned to the group. “Let’s chant the one we were doing a few minutes ago.”
“Raising children every day,
with the help the People give,
lets me know they’re in control,
giving time to work and live”
“Lady . . . shut up!” Stoner shouted as he glared at the group. “Whom do you think you’re dealing with?”
“Enough lady! That sounds like a song to me, a very bad song, but . . .” Stoner’s face grew red, and his neck was taunt and rigid. “Why am I wasting my time with this nonsense? Chant if you want— just don’t sing—or I’m sending a bus for all of you! Got it?”
“Yes, Sir,” Dahlia agreed with polite surrender to his authority.
The inspector shot a caustic glance around the room, mentally recording the faces of each participant. Some looked familiar but at the moment, he didn’t care. He had to get out of there. He was not going to run around town chasing ghosts and felonious singers.
He turned with near parade drill formation and shot back out the door. He was not retreating. He was leaving. He was too important for such stupidity. “Every minute I stand here, I lose ten IQ points,” he mumbled out loud. On a night like this, somebody always has a complaint, an observance, or a question to be investigated. If they’re not griping about something, they lose their reason for living. Their entire identity is wrapped up in spying on their neighbors and reporting every little remonstrance to someone, anyone. But, I will not be reduced to a baby sitter for these minimal citizens.
Stoner left the light and went back out into the darkness where shadows provided better cover for his indignant hostility. Back in his patrol car, he tried to remember where he had seen the leader before. Later, he would get the names of everyone who lived in that building.
The Spirit inside the Book
That evening, out in front of the apartment building, Dahlia had stationed friends nearby, talking together in little clusters. They watched for anyone the group did not know or trust. Fortunately, Stoner’s strata-car was seen in time for Jason and me to move to the back of the group, inside Indian River Apartments. After Stoner left, we didn’t expect him to waste his time coming back, so, we sang far into the night. There were songs about sleighs and snowflakes, and choruses about a family who had no place to sleep but a barn. That family was remembered for thousands of years and the baby was the miracle of the ages.
The lyrics and the strains of music, that had the power to penetrate my soul, were something I had never experienced. Some melodies made me feel like I was riding the wind of the sea, lifting me higher and higher. Other music made me think of home and yet, it was the kind of home I had only read about. I finally understood why the angels sing. Music touched my soul in ways mere words could not express.
It was late when the last of the carolers finally gave up and went off to sleep a few hours before the day would dawn again. Jason and I waited until the others had left, to say good night to Dahlia.
“Well, my new friends,” Dahlia yawned, “I will fall off this bench into a sleeping ball, and none of us want that.” She stood and stretched, then gave me another hug. “I’m happy for both of you.”
“Don’t bother coming into the office, Dahlia. Morning starts soon,” Jason smiled.
“You’re very generous, Doctor. Tomorrow is the day before First-day, our day of rest—which also happens to be Gifting Day. We never work those two days.”
Jason laughed and kissed her cheek.
“Night, Dahlia,” I added. Then I did something I had never done before. I reached out to her with an embrace. Suddenly, I remembered. “Dahlia, what is the second sign that helps us to identify others who believe? You were telling us earlier. ‘I’m Thomas’s friend,’ and what else?”
She took my hands like one sharing a secret with a friend. “Jesus’s friend Peter was often called the Big Fisherman, Christiana. Jesus called Peter and two brothers, James and John, also fishermen, to follow him. As his disciples, they would learn from him, so that they could reveal God to the people as well. Jesus said he would make his followers fishers of men. Christiana, watch for the ichthus. Watch for the ichthus.” Then she turned to go up to her apartment.
“Ichthus, Dahlia? Watch for fish?” I called after her, but she only waved her hand in the air, smiled over her shoulder, and walked on.
“Jason, remember those happy, laughing faces around the piano this evening? Somewhere on each one’s clothing—a lapel pin, a necklace, a design on a ring—there was a fish, the ichthus.” I was amazed. “They recognized each other by their brand—the ichthus.”
Jason never went to my room. At the door, we lingered for a moment. It had been a wonderful day and we didn’t want to let it end. There had been no joy like this in our time, so it was hard to trust there could possibly be a repeat of this glorious day. We said little, but when our eyes met, volumes were hidden behind them. Jason kissed my forehead. I watched him turn and walk slowly out into the night. Snow had begun to fall and I remembered a song: something about a white Christmas. I smiled.
• • • • •
In my apartment, I pushed the button to ignite the flame in the fireplace, a luxury known only to Legacy Citizens. Workers were forbidden to waste fuel. I started to rationalize how added responsibility should earn special perks and then I shuddered. I hadn’t even thought about my elite status before. I had taken it for granted. Now, it all felt pretentious. I wasn’t better than others. For the first time, I finally felt I was part of a cluster of friends.
As I sat there in the stillness of my apartment, I felt a presence growing within me, an indwelling spirit. It was mysterious yet loving, beckoning and calling gently for entrance into my world. It gave me hope and courage. At that moment, I felt emboldened enough to take a stand against the darkness that seemed to be crowding in around me.
I stretched as tall as I could, pulled the leather bound book from its conspicuous hiding place, and curled up in my favorite reading chair beside the fire.
How could a harmless black book make me feel excited, afraid, curious and indifferent, all at the same time? If I opened that book, would my life change completely? Why were there secrets inside those pages that had been declared unsafe, subversive? What should I do? I placed the book on the floor and stared into the fire. I’ll give it back to Grand-père. He’ll understand. I don’t know why he had given me the dangerous contraband in the first place. What if I get caught with it?
Unable to move from the spot, I watched the flames leaping in the firebox and thought of my new emotions. I jumped up, paced back and forth, and stole little glances at the book. I turned my back and walked over to the windows. Sparkling snow clung to the trees and bushes creating a kaleidoscope of color as it danced under the multicolored Gifting lights. I thought about Jesus and the meaning of Christmas. I understood something since I’d heard of him. Without him, there is no reason for gifting.
I looked down at the leather-covered book there on the floor near the hearth. What should I do? Should I, shouldn’t I? Even that sounded silly. I hadn’t just found the book lying in the street. My grandfather had given it to me. If I couldn’t trust him, I couldn’t trust anyone. I picked up the sacred book, ran my hands over the cover, felt the grain of the leather beneath my fingers, and sat down on the edge of the chair. The old volume fell open to the middle where the heading read Psalms. Carefully, I leafed through the pages. Jason had suggested that I start reading alternately from the old covenant and then the new. But, as a reason for my reading, he recommended that I read three passages first. I turned to those selections.
Genesis 1: 1-3. In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters. And God said, “Let there be light, and there was light.”
My breath stopped. God spoke light into being! My mind could not grasp the enormity of what I was reading, but my soul soaked up the words it thirsted for. First there was nothing, absolutely nothing, then God spoke and light blazed forth. I tried to imagine what the thunder of creation from the mouth of God would have sounded like!
Then I turned to the second passage.
John 1: 1-5. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. In him was life, and that life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.
So God wants to shine light into all the dark places. He wants us to understand, even though much of life is not understandable. He wants all of us to have wisdom, every one of us. Jason had said, when we follow God’s commands and embrace the wisdom in those laws, we are given promises. He said those promises and the reason for my quest for a solution to my grandparents’ fate would be found.
Proverbs 3: 1-2.
My son, do not forget my law, but let your heart keep my commands, for length of days and long life and peace they will add to you.
Length of days and long life . . . what did that mean? The reference explained, enduring days with warm hours that would be stretched over a lengthy life time and peace for the heart is promised to those who keep God’s laws. All of my worry over my grandparents’ fate was stripped away. They had a right to live a long and wise life, just as all of God’s created souls had the same right. God had given that promise. Light was shining into what I thought had been the shadowed, empty places of my heart. But, I discovered there are no empty places, only foreign lands of the soul that speak another language and have other experiences and customs. It takes time, a life time, an eternity, to travel to the far boundaries of the human soul. Then I knew —and I knew that I knew.
Ward Stoner pulled to a stop again in front of the Indian River Apartments. He had been driving around in circles since leaving the building earlier where he checked out a report that music and singing had been heard. He had only encountered a group of chanters. Each time he had passed the building, the same people sat in conversation on concrete steps, laughing and enjoying themselves. How can they stand to spend an entire cold evening together, doing nothing more than talk, talk, talk? His skin began to crawl. Had he known they were spotters for Dahlia, he may have had another opinion.
Stoner had felt drawn back to the apartment building, but he didn’t know why. Two situations loomed in front of him, the disappearance of a furnace technician and a phantom woman that roamed the transit and the apartment complex and had ties to both. Silas Drummond had to be found. He was totally insignificant, but he knew things that could not get out to the general public.
This time Stoner left the motor running. He wanted to keep the heater on. He had no intention of staying long.
Dispatch whispered in his ear. “Inspector, location monitoring places you back at Indian River Apartments. Is there a problem?”
“No, no problem.”
“Sir, I heard the exchange before. I think I dropped IQ points too, just listening to your encounter with those people over the communication device.”
“Never mind. I’ll build up more IQ points later. I’ll not be able to understand people like that. Lack of education is one thing but celebrating ignorance is more than I can tolerate.”
“It’s late, Sir. Why don’t you go home?”
Stoner had used his address pod to check out residents of the building. He made a list of each inhabitant. The inspector vowed to waste no more time that night on ghosts, wayward singers, or on an uppity Legacy Citizen who had the mysterious ability to stay a few steps ahead of him all day. Yes, once he had left the little gathering and cleared his head from the mundane dribble of the chants he had been subjected to, he realized he had recognized her standing almost behind someone else. Why have you been skipping along in front of me all day, Missy? What are you doing that’s so, so important?
But, there was more. Stoner was a man with a personal force of iron. He was used to intimidating people with a frozen glance. Miss Number-One Citizen was different. There was something about her, a growing presence, a strengthening of her will. Where does her strength come from? She probably doesn’t even know she has it, he thought as his icy breath came out with his mumblings and hung on the night air.
He had worked in the Blue Guard for many years and had risen in the ranks, like an alley cat leaping to the top of the backyard fence. One day he was on the ground and suddenly he was on the top. The rise to power was too heady for him. It affected his mind and sense of his own importance. At first, he had struggled with balancing power with his family life. While Miriam was still alive, she kept him grounded. However, once she was gone, his equilibrium died with her. He could no longer weigh the importance of each element of his life. All events held equal weight in Stoner’s world. Everything was an inconvenience. Everyone was an annoyance. Every incident of his long days made him angry.
He stared up at the building and followed the structure’s facade to the very top floor. Lights still glowed from the windows in the high penthouse and would have made others feel warm. Not Ward Stoner.
I’m sure you must live up there, Missy, a fairy princess at the top of her castle. Suddenly, he saw the silhouette of a woman framed in a top floor window beyond the shade. He jumped. He was surprised because it forced him to remember she was real, not an imaginary adversary lurking about in his mind, growing larger and stronger with each antagonistic thought. He shook his head to reshuffle the pictures in his deck of mental face cards. That’s enough of you tonight, Missy. Tomorrow, we’ll see who has the greater power, you or me.
Silas is Taken
7:00 a.m. Saturday, December 24
I woke up the next morning with Christmas melodies singing in my heart. I must have been singing them in my sleep, all night long. I stretched and yawned and smiled at the morning. Light streamed in my windows and bounced off the beveled mirror above my dresser sending prisms of carnival light across the surfaces of the room. Then I remembered, And God said, let there be light and there was light.
Rolling over in bed, I felt a furry body near my foot. “Oh it’s you, Shakespeare,” I purred at the new white ball of feline fuzz. Laying there a while longer, I drew Shakespeare’s soft body near me as new and thrilling images of the previous day filled my thoughts.
Everything I had been taught and had experienced up to that Gifting Season was being over-turned or up-righted. Not that my life had been a lie. I had realized in a flash—the last generations had not known about the true history of mankind. The text books had been purged and rewritten many years ago in order to bring stability to a society that had grown lazy and full of entitlement demands. We had been proud people, energetic, creative, prosperous, free people, who had forgotten how to think, how to problem-solve, and how to rejoice with what we had been given. Now, Society took care of us at the most minimal level, feeding our need to be nearly illiterate, uninformed, unmotivated, and volatile. People were left with just enough energy to be good worker bees. Antidepressants and mind dulling drugs in our water supply now controlled us but left our emotions flat, our libido restrained, and all creativity thwarted.
I was no better informed. I only read approved text books while growing up. Emotion was lacking from my life too, so when I found the old books in the back rooms of the library, I preferred to read the novels of the past that overflowed with feelings. Once I found the novels, I neglected the books of history, comparative governments and religions. I was an elective illiterate the same as others.
I shot out of bed with a new resolve. Perhaps there would still be a way to reverse my grandparents’ death sentence, the never-ending-sleep. The answers had to be buried in the old texts in the library.
I showered in the open wet area, dressed, and then checked my image in the mirror. For some strange reason, it was important how I looked today. I thought of a red blouse I had bought a few years back and had never worn, thinking that the color clashed with my auburn hair and fair complexion. Today it felt festive. It reminded me of the bright lights that bejeweled the city with celebration. I dressed quickly and dashed out to greet the day.
Outside, it had grown colder through the night and snow covered the ground. The icicle laden trees looked beautiful. The sky was blue and as clear as I had ever seen it. Maybe God is blessing me with clarity today too. I hoped I was right.
Another transit ride, I sighed. I hope there is no stranger staring at me again, like Sean, or no little man to get inside my head with evil dribble. By the time I got to my stop near the library, my ride had been so uneventful, I nearly forgot about Sean or Silas Drummond.
When I got to the library, it was still early and the sun danced off the window panes. But, just as I entered through the main doors, I heard my name and turned.
“Lady Applewait, wait!”
I could not believe it. Silas Drummond called to me again from the opposite curb.
Every word of the awful letter he had written flashed before my eyes and resounded in my ears. I tried to ignore him as I pushed on the door but his words stopped me.
“Look at the glitter of the building Miss Applewait. Believe me, please. Calcium,” he shouted.
I gasped in disgust at the possibility of human bones being ground into a fine powder. I gaged and wanted to run but there was something about the man. His beard had grown scraggly and deep lines etched his face. He looked as if he hadn’t slept all night and exhaustion was evident in every motion of his frail body. Just as I was feeling a new empathy for him, two blue guardsmen jumped out of a vehicle, grabbed Drummond and shoved him into the back of their car. I could hear his screams as they sped off.
“Lady Christiana, please . . .”
Fear gripped me as I stood frozen on the steps of the library. What was happening? Had he been caught because he was spreading lies or because he was revealing the truth?
Formation of the New Society
The encounter with Silas Drummond left me feeling vulnerable, exposed. I hurried in through the huge library doors and caught my breath in the main lobby. It was the day before Gift-giving Day and the place seemed empty except for security personnel and a few librarians and other workers. I welcomed the sight of Frank, the guard, and sailed through the front inspection barrier where he sat half asleep.
“Rise and shine, Frank,” I called out as I slipped through the gate to the safety of the other side. This time I listened for the sound. I had made sure the chip was in my satchel and, sure enough, I heard a faint beep as I walked through the scanner.
“Oh Frank, I left my book over there.” It was not an accident. I was setting up my own experiment. I put my bag, with the chip inside of it, on the desk on Frank’s side of the gate and walked back through the portal. I picked up the book I had left over there and started back through the gate again. I walked slowly and listened intently. There was no sound. The guard looked up in surprise.
“That’s odd,” he observed.
“What’s that Frank?” I questioned as I scooped up my satchel again.
“You weren’t detected. Everyone is detected when they come in.”
“Really? How?” I asked innocently.
“I don’t know. I just know we all beep.”
“Let me see,” I stepped back through the gate with my bag securely in my hand. I turned and swung back through the portal like I was executing a dance move, allemande left, one of the books had called it. That time, I heard a beep.
“Well, okay.” Frank seemed mystified. “I guess I didn’t hear you the first time.”
“You were asleep, my friend, and we both know it,” I teased. I sighed with relief. My experiment had proven my hypothesis. The tagging chip caused the beep - society’s methodical counting of souls.
“You sure are different today, My Lady.” Frank studied me carefully.
“Am I?” I thought I’d better move on. It wasn’t the custom for Legacy Citizens to have lengthy conversations with workers.
I hurried into the back stacks and was surprised to see Marge sitting by the window reading.
“Christiana? What are you doing here? It’s the day before Gift-giving.”
“I could ask the same of you, Marge.” I sounded a little snippy and wished I had phrased it differently.
Marge didn’t seem to notice. Perhaps I usually snapped at people. I did not like that possibility. Actually, I wished she would leave. I wanted to go on back into the inner recesses, unnoticed and unquestioned.
“Do you have company you need to prepare for?” I asked.
“No, not this year. I’ll be alone.”
Suddenly, a wave of loneliness I’d never felt before swept over me. “I’m sorry, Marge.”
She looked up from her book. “You are? Why?”
“No one wants to be alone on Gift-giving Day.”
“Are you all right, Christiana?” She was still watching me closely. “What did the doctor say about your shoulder yesterday?”
“Yesterday? Was that yesterday?”
“Yes,” she drew out slowly. “Was it serious?”
“Was what serious?” She startled me but I had to smile. I wasn’t sure if she was talking about the doctor and me, or about my seeing the doctor. “No,” I stalled with a chuckle, “it was just like a sliver and the doctor removed it.”
“And . . . the doctor . . . what did you think about him?” Marge closed the book and laid it in her lap.
How could I tell her what had happened? How could I explain my new emotions, my new understandings, my new awakening, my new friends . . . and Dr. Jason O’Reilly? I didn’t even understand it all myself. How could I explain it to someone else?
“He’s gorgeous!” I teased playfully as I turned to go toward the back hallway.
“Gorgeous? So men are gorgeous now? Christiana, you are bubbling.” Marge started to get up and since I didn’t want her to follow me, I turned back quickly.
I thought fast and switched the topic. “They have me on a new medication. I am being . . . detoxified,” I said with a tone of resignation.
Laying her book on the side table, Marge eased out of her chair. “Detoxification?” she whispered.
“With tiny little pills?” Marge moved closer, her eyes darted toward the door and back at me.
I couldn’t believe how Marge could have known about the pills? She wasn’t Legacy and no one else would have had knowledge of them. “Marge, what do you think you know?”
“I read about them, Christina, about the water and the citizen control . . . and ―”
“What about . . . the never-ending-sleep?” I held my breath. Could it really be that easy? Was the answer that close? “Where, Marge? Where did you read about the pills and all of that?”
“Come back here,” she said as she led the way down the hallway and into the back stacks. “Over here. I remember exactly where I had seen it because it was so profound.” She ran her finger over the books on the shelf about eye level and stopped. “Here it is,” she whispered as she studied the spine. “Formation of the New Society.”
Marge scanned the index and stopped on chapter eleven. “Here, page one-hundred sixteen, Citizen Control. It’s all right here, Christiana. They have been putting stuff in our water for years, in order to make us calm and cooperative, but it also robbed us, Christina. Yes, we aren’t sad or angry anymore, but we no longer have any joy either. The antidepressants control all negative feelings, sadness and anger, which should have brought a measure of happiness. But, the other chemicals that counteracted the side effects of the additives flattened everyone back out again because their ultimate goal had nothing to do with our best interests. It was all about population control. Their motives were twofold. First, they wanted to insure there would be no rebellion, and second . . . here let me show you this.”
She turned more pages frantically. “They wanted to decrease the number of citizens. Here it is, Population Control—listen to this. ‘In order for any society to support the most productive members, there must be a depopulation policy to legally put down its most disturbed, disabled, and infirmed individuals, as well as the elderly, and those citizens considered not capable of rehabilitation. These individual human units will be placed in a sleep chamber where they will drift off into an endless sleep.’ It’s right there.”
“Population Control? Marge, they have lied all along. Their motives were to build their own power!” I could not believe it, but I knew with my heart it was true.
Marge continued reading. “Since a society in the post-industrialized era requires only a modest workforce, it is necessary to limit the number of children produced in each family unit. Given that children born outside a family unit have little potential for success, they will be terminated before they become viable.”
“Oh Marge, those poor babies . . . and their grieving mothers . . . how could they?” I could not believe our leaders were so cruel.
“Here it is, Christiana,” Marge went on. “As a proactive policy, additives in the water supply will decrease the human desire to procreate, which will also eventually depopulate the nation. After a passage of time, this present crisis will pass. Then the policy regarding the endless sleep and these other forms of population control will be reevaluated to see if they should continue. Overturning this law will require a referendum from the citizenry.”
“What was this great crisis of the past? What happened?” I felt knowledge deprived and that rendered me helpless to change the future.
“I read the old history books as well as the transitional texts,” Marge whispered into the solitude of the back library. “The people had gotten complacent and had no longer participated in the republic. They only wanted to play games and engage in all manner of irresponsible behavior. Gluttony and an insatiable need for riches led most people into a totally self-indulgent, self-centered, and self-destructive life style. Families imploded, financial institutions collapsed and while people slept off their drunken stupor, a political faction of those bent on the total control of others rolled into place and shoved the lazy majority aside where they could continue to wallow in their own self-pity.”
“How did this come about? Didn’t the people try to stop it?” I questioned.
“No, the people paid no attention to their own government, except to complain,” Marge responded and then went on reading. “That anti-democratic political movement had been growing beneath the general population’s awareness, waiting for the right moment to take over the government while the country slept in their self-induced fog. When the people finally awakened from their apathy, they began fighting back, but it was too late. The movement had become very strong. The emotions on both sides finally exploded into the streets and chaos rained down. No one trusted the other. Those who successfully won the takeover of the government started drugging the water to control the masses of people.”
“Marge, how could it have gotten to that point? It seems impossible that people, who were blessed with the emotions of love and compassion, would give up such jewels for the plastic bobbles of frivolous play?”
“They had become lazy, complacent, Christiana.”
“Marge, why hadn’t you told me all of this before?” I was both thrilled and disappointed at the same time. Marge knew I had been concerned about my grandparents. She must have known that her information was relevant to my cause.
“I’m sorry.” She looked away and whispered, “I was afraid.”
“Afraid?” I thought Marge and I were friends. Maybe a Legacy Citizen can have no friends. “Were you afraid of me?”
“No . . .” she hesitated, “well, yes . . . maybe.” Marge touched my hand but would not look at me. “I was afraid of everything. If they had found out I had been reading the old books, I could have lost my job. If they thought I was trying to organize or arouse the people, I could have gone to jail.”
“Sedition . . . promoting through speech or writing, discontent or rebellion against the country,” I clarified out loud, although the warning was meant for me too.
“Yes,” she whispered in agreement. “If I lost my job or worse yet, if they put me in jail, I would no longer be a valued citizen. I would have my Length of Days lowered to the status of the common person.” Marge’s face was strained and tears rolled down her cheeks.
I studied her expression and asked carefully, “Marge, have you been using the pills too? How else could you feel so deeply?” Maybe I was revealing too much. I put my arms around her and hugged her as a friend. “It’s okay. But, where did you get the pills?”
“That, I can’t tell you, Christiana. Not yet. Please don’t ask me again.” She was pleading and I couldn’t refuse.
“Tomorrow is Gift-giving Day. Do you know another name for Gift-giving Day?” It could do no harm. If she didn’t know, she would say so without raising more questions.
She looked at me and smiled. “Christiana . . . am I going to get to say it again? I don’t usually get to wish anyone a Merry Christmas. Not very often anyway.”
Joy flooded my heart. Though I’d known about Christmas for less than twenty-four hours, it felt like my soul had known forever. “Tomorrow is Christmas, Marge,” I whispered. “I have until the end of the month to find a way to halt the evil euthanasia of the infirmed and elderly.” I put my hand on the book Marge had just read from. “I have to get this book out of here today. Grand-père has to see it. Maybe if he knew the true history of our country, maybe he wouldn’t be so willing to accept the inevitability of his fate.”
“Christiana,” Marge’s jaw dropped, “you cannot try to remove this book! You’ll get caught. We’ll both get caught.” Panic seemed to have overtaken her as she tried to reach out for it.
“I don’t think they’ll catch me. I have a plan. If it works, I’d like you to come to Christmas dinner tomorrow at my grandparents’ home. It’s a family thing, but I’ll be inviting a few other friends as well. If it doesn’t work, I guess I’ll be having my holiday dinner as a guest of the city.”
“Christmas in the home of members of the Council of Elders? Christiana, do you think I could?”
I laughed a little, not at my friend but at the joy I saw flash across her face. “You have already been invited. Of course you can come.”
“Wow, what a miracle. Now, we need another piece of gracious luck to get us through the hijacking of library property. How are we going to be able to get this book out of here?” Marge questioned. “You know they’ll see us walk through with a book in our hands.”
“I want you to walk ahead of me to Frank’s station. You talk to him while I slip past. I’ll put the book on the other side of the gate, then come back and walk through again.” I had a plan I thought might work. “Frank always smiles more broadly when you come into the library, Marge. He watches you. With very few emotions in his quivery of arrows, Frank must save up all day for his brief encounters with you.”
“Don’t be silly,” Marge blushed. “Besides, you’ll beep when you sneak through.”
“No, I’m sure I won’t.” I said as I gathered up the book. It wasn’t large but it was thick. I was still able to carry it in my left hand, the side away from Frank. “I’ll grab my hat but if you’ll take my tunic and satchel, I think we can pull this off.”
We walked into the hall and through the door that led to the outer library. No one was around. We kept walking, slowly, casually. When we emerged into the lobby, Frank saw us coming and smiled.
“Hi Frank.” Marge positioned herself in such a way that caused Frank to turn his back on me to pay exclusive attention to her.
“Hi Marge,” he grinned when we came up to his desk. “Are you going to stay here much longer?”
“Are you trying to close up early, Frank?” she smiled.
I took the few steps through the portal. It should have caused a beep from my chip. Nothing. Good, I thought.
They no longer tracked books with a bar code system, so the movement of the book alone would have not caused notice. Since people’s bodies were now bar coded and their every move was tracked, it wasn’t necessary to know what they carried in and out of buildings.
My heart was pounding when I found myself on the other side of the portal without being counted. Then, like a calming breeze, I remembered the words . . . Silent night, holy night, all is calm, all is bright. Those words blew away my fear and quieted my soul. I stepped back across the line, through the open gate, and slipped in beside Marge as she continued to talk to Frank.
“Thank you for carrying my stuff, Marge. I had almost forgotten. I can take my things now.” I smiled and took my belongings from her, including the bag with my chip buried inside. “Walk with me over to the front door, okay?”
“Sure,” then Marge turned to Frank, “if you have time to stop for coffee when you leave here later, let me know. I’ll be going in about an hour.”
Frank looked somewhat confused, so I walked back through the clearing station nonchalantly and beeped obediently. I moved over to the side table, picked up the book I had just placed there, and folded it into my wrap. When Marge caught up to me, we giggled a little.
“Marge, you made quite a sacrifice for the cause back there with Frank,” I whispered through my laughter.
“That was no sacrifice, Christiana.” She blushed and looked back at Frank who continued to follow us with his eyes. She patted the tunic-covered book. “Are you going home now?”
“I’m going to make a stop and invite another couple of friends for dinner tomorrow.” I gave her a hug, and we parted. Out in the bright early winter day, I saw the transit approaching from the east. I hurried along, all the while remembering the calm melody of Silent Night that rang in my head at the library checking station. A new, hopeful spirit and calm peace rose and filled all the empty spaces, flooding my soul with joy. God had shown me a way to stop the madness. Then . . . I knew, and I knew that I knew why the angels sing.