The Eyes on Christy Are Closed
Jason parked the car a short walk from my apartment building. “Hopefully, whoever was following us has gone home for the night,” he whispered into the frosty air.
My body felt heavy as Jason escorted me to the door. I wanted to get in out of the darkness and evil that seemed to wait at every turn.
“I know it’s late Jason, but can you come in for a while? I’d feel safer,” I said.
“Of course, Christy.”
We walked quickly toward the door. I felt exposed, like many eyes followed our every step.
Inside the building, firelight danced on the faces of our new friends who were gathered again in the large room, like families I had read about in my books. “Look at this, Jason. I hardly recognize it as my apartment building.”
“Many of those people are the carolers from the last sing-along,” Jason smiled. “Dahlia is still at the piano. I guess I really never knew her at all.”
“Do you think it’s safe to join them?” I motioned to the group and patted my satchel which still contained the precious lifesaving papers. “What if we’re still being followed? I wouldn’t want to put these people in harm’s way.”
“I haven’t seen anyone behind us since we came out of the Capitol. Not even when Ruth and her son stopped us in the road near her home, there didn’t seem to be anyone around except for one neighbor.” Exhausted and filled with fear, Jason and I wondered if eyes would still be watching our every move. He took my hand and led me over to the group who was still celebrating. It was nearly midnight.
I took off my cloak, draped it carefully over my arm, and watched that the paper was secure. Removing my hat, I placed it on the piano.
“Come sit beside me,” Dahlia patted the piano bench and kept up the melody with her right hand.
It looked like fun and I needed a peaceful moment before trying to sleep. I knew I would toss all night with all I had seen. I had to bring my soul back from the brink, the edge of utter hopelessness.
Oh Holy night, my heart soared in ways no spoken words could. Fall on your knees, Oh hear the angel’s voices, the golden melodies threaded the words that linked Heaven with my wounded heart.
After a few songs, Jason and I went over to the coffee pot on a long side table. With cups in hand, we found a place to sit and talk while we enjoyed the group.
“Jason, these lyrics are not threats to the people’s health as Society had said they were,” I said. “Look at their faces. Peace and joy shine in their eyes. Their emotional health is not being damaged by the musical threads of these songs.”
“I don’t see any primal instincts being stirred,” Jason smiled. “I do see raw emotions rising. Love is in the room.”
Finally, sleep began to overtake me. “I think I need to go to bed,” I yawned.
We walked over to say goodnight to Dahlia. Jason stood behind me at the piano. I could feel his warmth on my shoulder. “I’ll walk you up, Christy.”
“Wait,” Dahlia got up from the piano and put her hand on my arm. “I have wanted to talk to you, Christiana,” she whispered.
“I know you have Dahlia, but I don’t see how I can be of help. I’m newer to these feelings and experiences than you are.”
“I realize that, but there is something different about you. You are growing in understanding and love so fast, Christiana. It’s like you knew before, somewhere in time. I need to know how you took fire so fast.”
“I don’t even use feeling words yet,” I protested. “I have no idea why feelings are accumulating all around me.”
Dahlia smiled. “I remember how that felt. None of us had experienced emotions before, so there didn’t need to be descriptive language to talk about it.”
“But, I’m a person of words, Dahlia, many words, beautiful words. I have to know my feelings’ names.”
Jason patted my shoulders in comfort and support. “I think what Dahlia is asking, Christy, if you can think of a pivotal point when suddenly you knew what you didn’t know before, on a level where language isn’t needed.”
Suddenly, I knew. I knew a few of the words that matched my feelings. “I heard the flutter of angels’ wings and the breath of their song.” I smiled as words poured forth from my heart where knowledge is stored before there is meaning. “A strange warmth filled me, like Jason’s warm hand on my shoulder, and a flame was lit deep inside, Dahlia. That is all I know.”
“That’s all you know?” Dahlia smiled with awe. “I want as much as I can get. Is there anything else you know?”
“I know that, in the very beginning, Dahlia, there was God and that is all I need to know.” I wondered if I should cite the source of my certainty. Would I dare? “Dahlia, can I trust you?”
Her expression was pained, but her words were sure and true. “Christiana, you can trust me.”
“I have an old book . . . a very old book. When it’s safe, I’ll let you read it.”
“When will it be safe enough for me to read a book that’s not already on the approved reading list?” She shook her head at the futility of the existence in which we all lived.
“When the time is right . . . I will tell you.” Then I stood. I was afraid to say more. “I’ll see you tomorrow?” I gathered up my hat and cloak. I patted my satchel and compulsively wanted to open it to see if the paper was still there. I had to leave it alone, or risk revealing it to someone who might report that we have it.
“Yes, indeed, I will see you tomorrow.” Dahlia’s smile was sweet and genuine.
Jason walked me to the elevator and we rode up in silence. It was a comfortable silence in a language that spoke louder than words. There were so many things on my mind, all mixed with a new joy I had never known and a fear I had never experienced.
“The camera, Christy,” Jason whispered at my door. “We have to take care of that. I can step inside where I can’t be seen by whoever is watching, while you investigate. But, I’m not going to leave you alone while that thing is still in there.”
I stepped into my apartment. Everything was quiet and still, but I was uncomfortable. My library stepladder still stood against the book case. I knew I would have to do something about the camera that lurked above my head. It seemed to hover above me like a vulture ready to attack the weakest one on the ground. But, I was not weak anymore.
I walked past the bookcase, first going to the windows as a diversion to my true destination. Perhaps whoever would view the film later might think my plan was an accident. I stood looking out onto the city and stretched my arms above my head as casually as I could. Then, I walked to the small table beside the couch and picked up a book I had laid there earlier. Pretending to leaf through the small volume, I scanned several of the pages then laid it down as if it didn’t hold my interest. I looked up and down my bookcase wall, then climbed the ladder near the camera but avoided looking at it.
“There it is,” I whispered as if talking to myself and pulled a book from the shelf with a jerk. Swinging my body wide, as one might if they were steadying themselves against a fall, I flung my arm out and knocked the camera to the floor with my elbow.
“What on earth?” I spoke to myself again and hurried down the ladder. Pretending to trip near the bottom rung, I stomped the heel of my shoe down with a thud on the small camera as I landed squarely on the floor.
“Oh my goodness,” I added in case the camera was still functioning. The object was even smaller than it had appeared while on the shelf. I carefully scooped it onto a piece of paper that was lying on the table and tossed the entire thing into the trash.
“That will be the end of it for tonight. I’ll worry about the who and why another time,” I said as I dusted off my hands.
“Good job, Christy,” Jason said. “The trash is a good place for it,” he laughed.
“Well it certainly is trash,” I agreed.
“Are you okay?” Jason asked. “I could stay—on your couch—tonight if you would feel safer.”
“Thank you Jason. I appreciate that but . . . it wouldn’t be proper. And—I think that I’ll be all right. Whoever placed the camera did so when I was out. I don’t think he’ll come back while I’m home.”
“He seems to sneak around rather than confront,” Jason reassured me. “You’ve been through a lot this evening. We both have. I can be here in minutes if you become frightened.”
“I know you can, Jason.” We walked slowly to the door. “You would think I would be eager to sleep and free my mind of all that has happened. But—I do hate to see you go.”
“I know,” I finished his thought with thoughts of my own. “Good night,” I whispered as he kissed me. I leaned against the door after he left and smiled.
Alone on the couch, I sat looking out at the city, brightly lit with holiday lights. It was late. The day had been traumatic. Evil was discovered beneath Howard Mountain. A foul, wickedness dwelled there. Tomorrow, Christmas Day, would be as different as joy is from sorrow. Celebrating awaited and the huge task of starting the petition loomed before us. I had to remain positive, or fear and disgust would drain all of my energy. I now knew what vileness lay at the bottom of the souls of some. We would not be safe, and we were only weeks away from my grandparents’ final days.
I panicked when I thought of the number of signatures we would need for our petition to stop the Length of Days laws. “Will we have the signatures in time?”
Christy’s First Christmas
In spite of the fact that my energy had been depleted from all the joys and horror of the previous day, I awakened on my first Christmas morning, feeling like a child, anxious to open the biggest present under the Gifting Tree. I finished dressing myself in my beautiful new, green silk caftog and looked in the mirror. I smiled and dabbed a little color on my cheeks.
Jason came early. He was going to take Dahlia and me to my grandparents’ home for my first Christmas gathering! When I opened the door, he immediately swept me off my feet and into his arms.
“Merry Christmas, Christy.” He held me close and added, “You look beautiful!”
“Thank you, kind sir. Jason, this is my very first Merry Christmas,” I squealed. “I can’t get enough of hearing those words. And, I wish for you a very Merry Christmas as well, Jason O’Reilly.”
“We took care of our little spy last night,” I said triumphantly as I pointed to the trash receptacle in the kitchen.
“You know that won’t be the end of that little chapter in your life, don’t you?’ Jason put his arm around my waist and kissed my forehead.
“I know, Jason. But, the thought of someone being able to watch my every move on Christmas Eve was more than I wanted to think about.”
“Whoever put it there will be back as soon as the holidays are over, looking for their equipment,” he whispered and sighed in my ear.
“I know. I realize I’ve only postponed the inevitable. I also know that they might have placed it here on a previous night when I was asleep. But, I will not think about that, not today. I’ll think about it tomorrow.”
“Now you sound like Scarlett O’Hara,” Jason said.
“You haven’t found Margaret Mitchell’s book yet? Gone With the Wind is required reading in my mind. At the end, a whole race of people was freed.”
“Now, a whole nation must be set free.” I thought of the enormity and the danger of it all. “Oh Jason, I hadn’t even thought about how I’ve pulled you into all this intrigue. I’ve only been thinking about myself and my grandparents. I have not meant to be so selfishly unaware of other people’s safety and reputation that I would risk a physician’s professional standing to help me with my family’s problem?”
“This isn’t a family problem anymore, Christy. It’s a national disaster,” Jason insisted. “And, those were my parents in those cases beneath the mountain. They were on display like dinosaurs at the museum. Christy, you have abandoned all concern for yourself. You are selflessly focusing on the needs of your grandparents, and everyone else too, because we are all affected by the Length of Days policy.”
I saw the sadness in Jason eyes and felt we needed to focus on the holiday.
“Well, I am certain of one thing. I am not going to think about it today. I am too tired and burned too deeply from the atrocities at the mountain to think about anything.” I gathered up my cloak, my hat and bag and squared my shoulders. “I will not think of it today. I am ready, Sir.”
“Good,” Jason smiled and checked his watch. “It’s earlier than we had originally planned, but I got your message about the schedule change.”
“Good, I hope Dahlia did too.”
“I got the holo-memo but didn’t get your reason for the change.”
I put on my holiday red hat and Jason helped me with my green cloak. “Wait until you hear about the developments, Jason.”
“It’s only nine-thirty, Christy. Will your grandparents be expecting us at this hour? Will they be up this early on Christmas Day?”
“Yes, I called Grand-mère and told her that I was expecting someone to stop by their house this morning. She said Grand-père has been up for hours.” I laughed to myself as I thought about my grandfather. “He’s like a child on Gift-giving Day. He’s too excited to sleep. I’ve seen him sneak into the gathering room and dig around under the tree, looking for packages with his name on them. He shakes them gently and makes sure he doesn’t break anything. Then, he’ll write down on a small piece of paper, his guess about what’s in the gift. Later, after the presents are opened, he’ll produce the paper to prove he had guessed correctly. He likes to be right.” I smiled. Remembering the dear ones was always a joy.
“It will be sad when they die, even from old age. But, Jason, to purposefully cut their lives short while they’re still healthy should be criminal, an act of homicide.”
I reached in my cloak pocket for the key to lock my door and found the other two keys from the Capitol I had put there the day before as well. “You mean,” I gasped as I stared at the keys to the Capitol, “that was just yesterday?” I whispered.
“Just a few hours ago,” Jason smiled and shook his head. “It’s hard to believe isn’t it?”
“Oh, wait,” I remembered. “I want to take the book from the library and the paper from the Capitol.” I started to dart back inside.
“I have them, Honey. I knew you wanted to take them.”
He threw his head back and laughed softly. “If that’s okay with you?”
I smiled and took his arm. “I like it. It is very okay, in fact, it’s charming.” I nearly skipped along beside him. Then I remembered . . . caution . . . slowly. “We’ll get off on the fifth floor and pick up Dahlia.”
The ride down on the elevator was relaxing. Jason stood with his back to the door and we talked. A few minutes later, with Dahlia in our company, the three of us burst onto the morning streets where snow had dusted a powdery white on everything. The day looked clean and pure. Since it was winter and the car windows were up and tight, no one would hear us, so we sang Christmas Carols as we rode through the empty streets.
Everywhere I looked, lights were glowing from holiday homes. Festive, Gifting lights brought more color into most people’s lives than there had been all year long. Gift-giving Day had always been a happy day for basically unhappy people. But now, Christmas Day brought a new, holy meaning to my heart and made it a sacred celebration. It all seemed beyond my wildest imagination, outside the limits of all possibilities that a small child could bring such peace and hope to a gray and lifeless people, even though I had read about Christmas in the books I loved. While I had enjoyed the holiday in seasons past, I had never been blessed before by the song of the angels who heralded the Christ child’s birth.
A Referendum, Some Petitions and Christmas Joy
“Wow,” Dahlia expressed with awe when we crossed over into Oakwood and drove up to my grandparents’ house. “I never dreamed that I would be invited to a home like this. The white clap board is beautiful. Your grandparents’ home is a real Victorian.” Dahlia sat forward in the backseat of the car and took it all in. “Just look at that wide veranda across the front. It wraps all the way around the side of the house. I didn’t know anyone lived in houses like this anymore.”
We all got out of Jason’s car and started to walk up the sidewalk. Dahlia held back a little as Jason and I moved toward the house. “They are both on the Council of Elders, aren’t they?” Dahlia asked in a whisper.
“That’s one of the hats they wear, Dahlia. But the chapeaus I like the most, are the ones that go with their grandparent costumes,” I laughed.
We walked up onto the wooden porch floor and the boards had a happy, hollow sound under our feet. In my usual fashion, I put my hand to the door latch and pushed it open with my hip.
“Grand-mère,” I called toward the great room as we let ourselves in. “I would like you to meet my friends.”
I led Jason and Dahlia through the wide entry hall and into the large sitting room that was furnished with overstuffed chairs and decorated with wonderful paintings and pottery of bygone days.
“Grand-mère, I’d like you to meet Dahlia Zoobamba and Doctor Jason O’Reilly,” I sang out an introduction.
Constance Richly rose with the bearing of a Grande Dame in a royal court. She reached out both of her hands and embraced my friend Dahlia. “Then, this gentleman must belong to you,” she laughed. “Mr. Swifty has already arrived.”
“Swift, Grand-mère, Thackery Swift,” I corrected her.
“Yes, my dear, I know. But Swifty and I have already had an understanding, haven’t we young man?” She wrapped her arm in Thackery’s and patted his hand.
“What kind of understanding do you have with my grandmother?” I teased Swifty.
“She will feed me part of that goose I helped put in the oven, and I will tell her about my Grandma Rose. It seems your grandmother and mine were school friends.” Swifty smiled proudly. Perhaps because his grandparents were now asleep, he seemed to like being close to mine, borrowing some of their warmth.
Then Grand-mère turned to Jason. “And, I am thrilled to see you again, Jason O’Reilly,” she smiled. “Your parents were long and dear friends of Christy’s parents, Elizabeth and Robert Applewait.”
“Yes, Ma’am. They talked of them often,” Jason took my grandmother’s hand, then bowed and kissed it gently.
“Happy Gift-giving Day,” Mother called out as she and my father came through the door.
“We’re nearly all here,” I said. “When Marge arrives, we will gather in a cluster in the great room.” I expected Sean, the newspaper deliverer from the tram, to arrive in a few minutes.
Just then, my father answered the doorbell and Marge came in. “I’ve asked all of you to come early because Jason and I have some news.”
“Jason?” Mother questioned.
“Oh, Mother, Daddy, I would like you to meet Dr. Jason O’Reilly, Marge Cummings, Dahlia Zoobamba, and Thackery Swift, A.K.A. Swifty.” Everyone laughed.
“Jason O’Reilly? I knew your parents, didn’t I?” Mother asked.
“Yes, dear,” Grand-mère smiled warmly at her. “Jason’s parents were Stephanie and Charles.”
“Stephie? Oh Jason, I miss her so much.” Mother put her arms around Jason and gave him a hug as one comforts the bereaved.
“Yes, Ma’am, so do I.” Jason responded.
The vision of Charles and Stephanie O’Reilly, encased in glass in Bedlam’s gruesome museum, flashed through my mind. I shook my head to free my mind from the dark memories of the previous night.
As we gathered in what Grand-mère called the parlor and after everyone was seated, all their faces turned in expectation to me. I had called each one to come early, before the meal. Now, the floor was mine.
“You all know by now that Grand-père will turn seventy-five at the end of the month and Grand-mère will follow him a few days later.”
Each face in the room grew solemn. No one seemed to know what to say and the silence grew heavy.
“We believe we have found a solution.” Jason handed the book and paper to me.
“Any law can be overturned by a citizens’ referendum,” I began.
“A referendum?” Grand-père snapped to attention and leaned forward to the edge of his seat as he waited for more details.
“Yes. A citizens’ referendum requires a petition bearing the signatures of a majority of the population. The petition would call for the eradication of the law concerning the Length of Days policy for termination of life,” I explained. “We will also include a reversal of the laws concerning chemical additives in the water supply.”
Grand-père stood up quickly and paced back and forth, crisscrossing the room. Then, he sat down on the arm of the chair beside Grand-mère. “Connie, is it possible?”
The doorbell rang and everyone jumped. We were excited and edgy. The government could claim we were practicing sedition right there in my grandparents’ home on Christmas morning if the wrong person found us there with incriminating documents.
Thankfully and surprisingly, the new visitor was Judge Brunner. Jason invited him in. Judge Brunner came into the parlor and greeted Grand-père with a hearty handshake and kissed Grand-mère on the cheek. He turned to Jason and then to me. “Were you able to get it?” he asked.
“Yes,” my voice cracked with the excitement of our accomplishment. I handed the paper to Judge Brunner and added, “The cover form for the petition.”
“Where did you find that document?” Grand-père asked. “I am amazed. I haven’t even heard of a special form or a citizens’ referendum.”
“You don’t want to know where it came from, Oliver,” Judge Brunner warned. “Just let it be.”
“A petition will not be received without an official cover letter or form.” I said. “It is a necessity.”
“But . . . Christy,” Mother whispered, “half of the signatures in the whole country . . . by the end of the month? How?”
“Well . . .” But before I could answer, I heard the door again. I was expecting Sean at any minute.
Jason jumped up and let him in.
“I hope I’m not late,” Sean apologized as Jason led him into the room where all eyes had turned to him.
“You’re just in time.” I rushed to greet him. “And, Sean, I would like you to meet my grandparents and my parents.”
“I am honored,” he smiled broadly and offered his hand in friendship to all.
Sean carried a black leather valise in his left hand. My love of books drew my attention to the bag and I wondered if the dramatic case testified to the importance of the contents. A character in one of my old suspense novels would have carried such a serious looking grip.
“Sean, I’ll have to ask you to respond to my mother’s question, because, I don’t know the answer. She wondered how we would be able to get the signatures of half the population before the end of the month.”
Sean opened the valise and pulled out a tall stack of papers. “The heading on each page identifies it as a petition, or citizens’ referendum as Christiana calls it, to overturn the New Bill of Rights, in particular, the policies regarding the Length of Days law and the additives in the water supply.” Sean took a deep breath and continued. “We have been secretly gathering signatures for months. We’re going after the termination of the entire New Bill. Citizens signed the petition below the heading and included their address and contact information as required. This is a representative sample. We have boxes and boxes of signed petitions, all carefully preserved and filed.”
“Weren’t people afraid to sign their name, knowing it would be presented to authorities who might misunderstand the petition’s meaning?” Grand-mère’s words mingled concern for their safety with deep appreciation. “These heroic neighbors who put their name to such a document could be accused of treason.” There had been no protests against the government in many years, since words spoken against the current policies or laws were forbidden.
“No, Ma’am, there was no fear at all,” Sean said. “They felt privileged to be counted, excited about being able to actually participate in something as large and noble as this.” Sean spread the pages on the table. “The petitions we have, account for seventy-five percent of the adult population of Capitol City.”
“Oh Sean,” I gasped as tears filled my eyes and tightened my throat. “We have the required number of signatures already?”
“But, that’s not the whole country.” Mother shook her head and her eyes glistened with tears, but they were not tears of joy.
“My wife, Silvia, and I knew that we probably wouldn’t have a full sample of the population,” Judge Brunner spoke up. “We believed if enough names could be produced to represent a trend, even if it isn’t a completed work, we hoped it would be recognized as the will of the people. With the proper signatures, and the required cover paperwork . . . we think we can still make this happen. I have no doubt there will be enough signatures when this effort is completed.” Judge Brunner cleared his throat and added, “As a Zone Judge, I can issue a stay order on all those who are to be put to sleep due to the Length of Days policy, until the entire country can be canvassed.” Carl’s eyes fell to the ground and he spoke another truth. “You have to know that I have a conflict of interest in this. My son, my only son, Michael . . . is slowly improving from paralysis. But, he would have been terminated if we hadn’t hidden him. He hasn’t been out of our home for nearly a year. Not even the neighbors know that he’s there.”
“Carl,” Grand-mère offered in her own soft sweet way, “Michael is a wonderful young man. He deserves to live . . . just as all people everywhere have a right to fight for their own lives, no matter how difficult the strife or how long the battle. It is their own personal battle to fight . . . or surrender to . . . but it is their decision alone.”
Daddy had been silent up until then. He was a man who used words sparingly but when he spoke, his message was profound. “We will stand behind you, all of you, at every turn this cause may take. Together, we will regain liberty for the weak, as well as for the strong, for the sick and broken, as well as for the robust and hearty. This cause must succeed.”
Before my father could finish expressing his thoughts, we heard a loud crash coming from the front door. Who would dare barge into a private home of Legacy Citizens—unless? Had he found us?