The ACM John Milton Award to Katherine Bland
|June 14, 2011||Posted by admin under 2011 Winners||
Athanatos Christian Ministry’s
John Milton Award
(High School Category)
The Last Generation
by Katherine Bland
All Rights Reserved
In the corner of a blue room, a tiny baby boy lay quietly in an oak crib. A young blue-eyed, dark haired girl stood over him, smiling sweetly. His coos flowed up to her ears as he stretched his little arms up to her.
“Not now, Carson, I have to go to my first day of kindergarten!” the little girl chirped and turned to skip out of the room. Immediately the baby boy wailed and even as the young girl shut the door and left with her hand clasped in her mother’s, she could hear him. The crying would not stop. She couldn’t get it out of her head.
Rachel Hart jerked awake in a cold sweat. She had been having the same dream ever since she was five. Lately, it had become more frequent. There was nothing she could think of that would cause this dream. What was that thing behind the wooden bars? It was almost like some mutant miniature version of a human. Nothing she had ever seen looked like that. Any time she broached the subject, her parents offered no explanation. The most they ever insisted was that she must be eating something wrong before bed.
With a groan, Rachel rolled out of bed and stood at the window looking out over 15th Avenue below. It was another miserably foggy, rainy day in Seattle. The scent of freshly baked blueberry muffins wafted into her nostrils from the kitchen, sending her on a mad dash.
“Honey, you look tired.” Her mother worried aloud placing the plate of muffins at the center of the table.
Before Rachel could formulate a response, from the head of the table, her father laid down his paper and spoke. “Nightmare again?” Rachel nodded, quickly noting her parents’ uneasiness as they exchanged glances.
“Your eighteenth birthday is coming up, honey. Have you decided which organ you want replaced?” Her mother set the napkins at each spot and motioned for Rachel to take a seat.
“I really can’t decide.” Rachel reached immediately for the muffins and dropped one on her plate. “It’s not a matter of not wanting a new organ. I just can’t decide what I want. There are so many good options. I can’t decide what to replace first!”
“We might be able to offer up a little extra money to get you two replacements. Would you like that?” Her father leaned back in his chair looking at her with strong, approving eyes. Rachel nodded in fervent acquiescence, signaling the end of the discussion.
The family enjoyed their conventional chatty breakfast filled with all the gossip her mother could get her hands on and all the legal worries her father was dealing with. After devouring three muffins, more than usual, Rachel retreated to her room. A sudden hush, however, alerted her to the whispers of her parents.
“We can’t wait until her eighteenth birthday to have her temporal lobe replaced. It’s only a matter of time before she starts remembering and leaves us like Jacob did.” Her mother’s whisper was strained, and Rachel could tell she was weeping.
Her father cleared his throat. “Liz, this is the only life she’s ever known. Jake had the unfortunate circumstance of seeing the horrible way everyone used to live and somehow thought it was better. He wasn’t able to make the commitment to this amazing legacy we all have here. Rachel would understand. She would choose this life. We can always have her memories suppressed again.”
“We can’t keep doing that! She’s older now and it doesn’t last long enough to be worth it. We will discuss this further.” With that, Elizabeth Hart seized her umbrella and stalked out into the hallway to catch the elevator.
Rachel had never heard her parents fight like this. And what in the world were they talking about? She had a strange feeling her dream held more than anyone was letting on.
“And then they were fighting over whether or not to have my frontal lobe replaced or just to suppress my memories, which apparently they’ve done before! I don’t know what’s going on.” Rachel took a sip of her caramel latte, instantly feeling better, and stared at the two faces of her concerned friends.
“Your mom just sounds stressed. She probably needs a new heart. My mom just had hers replaced, and she’s so calm and collected now. It’s nice,” Scarlet stated trying to reassure Rachel.
“Have you talked to Jake recently?” Shannon inquired. “Maybe he can help you with this a little better than the two of us can.”
Rachel sighed. “He never even said bye to me.”
That was an atrocious lie. The night he had snuck off into the darkness, Jacob had kissed her forehead and slipped a cryptic note under her mattress that read:
“Truth with me.”
He had also managed to get her his new address. He had gone to live among the people the world shunned. They lived in what was left of the trees, among the eastern mountains, in individual houses made of wood or concrete or stone, instead of the steel and glass skyscraper apartment buildings like everyone else. Rachel had never fully understood the reason Jacob had run away. What did he not like? She knew her brother too well to think it was something frivolous, but at the same time, maybe he was just crazy.
“Hey, ladies!” Robbie’s voice cut into Rachel’s thoughts. The girls quickly moved their chairs together, allowing Robbie, Preston, and Xander to sit down. Rachel could see instantly that Xander was in one of his particularly crabby moods again.
Rachel had known him her whole life. More recently, their lifelong friendship had bloomed into a romantic relationship. They had plans to be married after finishing their coursework. He would go on to work for the transportation department, and Rachel would join her mother as a secretary for her father’s law office. Lately, though, Xander had not been quite as excited about their future plans. Rachel knew it had something to do with a ‘book’, as he called it, his grandfather had shown him. Xander said it belonged to his grandmother who Rachel knew had died foolishly refusing all organ transplants. Her writings, Xander often explained, told of a world where people had wrinkles, got hurt, and died, but were all so happy at the same time. Rachel could not deny how excited he made her with his energy and excitement about living in this world, but she knew better. Where they were now was perfect.
“You okay?” Rachel whispered as the others ranted and raved about the latest news story to pop up on the TV window screen.
“It’s my birthday tomorrow,” Xander crossed his arms and leaned toward her.
“That’s normally something to be happy about.”
“No, Rach, it’s my eighteenth birthday.”
“I don’t want any brand new organs.”
“Xander, we’ve waited for this moment. It’s all we live for. How can you not be excited? It’s the start of forever!”
His green eyes darkened. “I don’t want to live forever.”
“Don’t you dare start that again! We’re supposed to be together. You’re not throwing away your life,” Rachel ordered as fury boiled within.
“I’m not the one throwing life away,” Xander retorted.
“Okay, you two, I don’t know what you’re fighting about, but chill.” Scarlet insisted, her words cutting through the tension.
“It’s nothing serious,” Rachel smiled and patted Xander on the back as he forced out a smile.
“Head to the usual place?” Robbie inquired, standing up. Everyone nodded in agreement and followed Robbie to the door. As they exited the café, Xander pulled Rachel aside.
“Will you come with me somewhere tonight?” His eyes were pleading; his expression and tone much softer than before.
“I don’t know, I can’t…”
“I can tell you why you have that nightmare.” With those words and his trusting eyes upon her, Rachel was sold.
That night, Rachel packed a bag, told her parents she was staying with Shannon, and snuck off to meet Xander at the park.
“You promise this will explain what my dream is about?” Rachel dropped her bag at Xander’s feet as he threw it in the back of his old 2017 Chevy Camaro.
“Yes, absolutely.” He opened the passenger door for her, and she stood dumbfounded. “Have you never been in a car before?”
“Well, no. I use the moving sidewalks and the am-track. Cars are so ancient. How is this still running?” Rachel hunkered down awkwardly and plopped into the passenger seat.
Xander took his seat behind the wheel. “They’re not that ancient. It’s only twenty years old, but it hasn’t been driven that much. My grandpa used to drive it before all that stuff was made, and it was his dad’s. Obviously they have found better transportation now, but none of them could bear to get rid of it. Since I’m leaving, Granddad told me to take it.” Rachel studied Xander’s conflicted expression but allowed the silence to envelope them as he started the car and drove them away.
Rachel noted Xander had been driving them toward the eastern mountains for a couple hours now. They were out in the trees where there were roads made of pavement. Xander continued to remain silent allowing Rachel to take in the surroundings of what was once the typical suburbia. To her it looked barbaric. Why did they have lawns and separate houses? Xander kept his eyes on the road, looking for a place to turn around if need be, but Rachel did not object to going further. He took a right onto a heavily wooded driveway and followed the twisting road to a brick two-story house. He stopped the car facing the house as Rachel’s face lit up.
“This is my house,” she whispered fumbling with the door handle before finally unlatching it. “We all lived here. My whole family.” Xander got out and followed slowly behind Rachel as she made her way up to the steps.
“Knock on the door,” Xander urged as Rachel felt the smooth wood with the palm of her hand. Before she could ball up her fist the door swung open and her brother greeted her with open arms.
“Jake?” Rachel inquired, unsure who this aged man was.
“Yes, Rach, it’s me,” he replied stepping back so she could get a good look at him.
“But you look so old, older than Mom and Dad,” her voice came out in a raspy, unsure whisper.
“Rachel, I’m only twenty-four. Mom and Dad have had so much work done they look twenty years younger than what they are,” Jacob replied, watching his sister’s expression. “Thanks for finally bringing her with you, Xander.”
“No problem. It’s almost cutting it close, but she still has a couple weeks,” Xander shook Jacob’s hand, and Rachel stared at the two wondering how long they had been in contact.
“Both of you come in, there are people I want you to meet.” Jacob motioned Rachel inside while Xander lightly pushed her in, following closely.
“Kristen, this is my little sister Rachel. Rachel, this is my beautiful wife Kristen,” Jacob announced. Rachel stared in amazement at the woman before her. She didn’t seem quite as “old” as her brother, but out here in this world, she was not at all sure about anything. Then Rachel heard the horrid sound, the wailing that she could never escape from when she slept. Jacob recognized the terror in Rachel’s face. He had been around when her nightmares had first started. Kristen left the room and stepped back in with a similar version of the tiny mutant Rachel always saw accompanying the bawling in her dream.
Rachel cringed even as the baby stopped crying. “What is that?”
“She is your niece, Emma,” Jacob replied. Xander stepped forward and cradled the baby girl in his arms. Meanwhile, Rachel stood rooted in place not sure what to think.
Suddenly she found her voice. “So she’s human?”
Jacob chuckled, “Yes. Believe it or not, you and I used to look just like her. In fact, this is what you came for, so everyone take a seat and I’ll fill Rachel in on what she needs to know.” Kristen took Emma back from Xander and led the group into the living room. “Okay, Rachel, are you ready to know the truth?” Jacob asked, settling in the recliner across from her. This time without hesitation Rachel nodded.
Jacob began, “Roughly twelve years ago, scientists made an insane discovery. They found that they could regenerate any and all body parts by using stem cells. Everything was well and good until people realized this meant they could live forever. With roughly five generations left, there was a shortage of food and water. Naturally, the government stepped in and proposed a so-called solution to the problem. Every baby would be killed because they were, and I quote, ‘no longer necessary’. That’s exactly what happened. With that, there was a huge standoff between those of us who still stood with God and everyone else who wanted to play God. Our generation is the last to ever exist from beginning to end, except here in this place. We chose the normal, not murderous, way of life.” Rachel’s puzzled expression spoke the words she could not muster.
“Your dream is a memory. A memory of our little brother who was murdered, because our parents wanted to live forever instead. They took Carson on your first day of kindergarten. Then Mom packed up everything we owned, took us to the city to have that part of our memory suppressed, and moved us into the newest apartment buildings. When we came home, we had no recollection of the little boy who had lit up our lives for two years, or the fact that we hadn’t always lived in that apartment. I started remembering everything when I was about your age, too. There’s only a certain amount of time the memory suppressors work; the older you get, the harder it is to keep them suppressed. I figured out the truth though, Rach. I caught them talking about it, they couldn’t lie to cover it up anymore.”
“And then you left,” Rachel’s accusatory voice barely escaped her lips in a whisper.
“Do you understand why?”
“How could you turn your back on Mom and Dad like that?” Rachel was no longer curious; she was enraged.
“They lied! They killed our brother! Their very own son!” Jacob shouted back exasperatedly.
“For good reason, Jake. How else were the rest of us expected to live?” Rachel glanced over at the way Kristen cradled Emma. She seemed to be blocking Emma from Rachel’s words.
“We’re not meant to live forever. That was never what God intended,” Jacob lowered his voice back to a calmer level trying to reach his sister through a different method.
Rachel remained silent. She did not know who this God guy was, but he seemed to be the real problem. Anyone who set up her parents in that light was not good. Her parents did not make a mistake. Just because they had not fully explained everything or revealed the complete past did not matter to her. That was their business. They knew what was best. They had the years of experience and all the worldly knowledge.
Xander spoke up softly but firmly, “Do you remember that day at kindergarten? It seems crazy, but I remember it completely. You rushed into the room to announce that your baby brother had said his first word and it was your name. He hadn’t been as advanced as normal babies and you were all worried that he wouldn’t be able to talk, but he did. Do you realize how great the light shined in your eyes that day? The fact that you were so important to someone so little meant the world to you.”
Rachel’s mind flashed back to the evening before that first day of kindergarten. She was surprised at how swiftly the memories came streaming back. Carson and Jacob were lying on the floor rolling a ball back and forth. She, of course, was on a rampage trying to decide what to wear to kindergarten on her first day. There was nothing good enough or pink enough and she had stormed through the house crying before flopping down on the couch. Without a sound, Carson had stood up, waddled over to where she lay, and said her name while softly patting her head.
A tear slowly worked its way down Rachel’s cheek. She had not cried since that night. There had been nothing to cry over, that she knew about, until now. Her heart began to ache for the sweet little toddler who had brought her that joy and had cared so much. How could her parents have done such a thing? How could the world have turned away from its very essence?
“Rachel?” Jacob whispered trying to bring her back to the present.
“I want to go home.” Her words were barely audible. Xander and Jacob exchanged a glance and nodded. They knew this outcome was inevitable. The four remained silent as Xander and Rachel exited the house.
Xander studied Rachel discreetly the whole drive home. She was wrestling with which choice to make, and how her decision would affect everything she knew. They pulled back into Seattle onto 15th Street.
Before Rachel got out of the car, Xander grabbed her arm, “I’m going to live there. I’m leaving later today.”
Rachel nodded and with a sly smile whispered, “Okay. Pick me up on your way out. I have to break this to my parents somehow.” She slipped out of his car and ran around the corner to her apartment building.
Xander returned roughly seven hours later, his car packed down, but with just enough room for Rachel to bring everything she owned. He entered the apartment building, raced up the seven flights of stairs and knocked on number 719.
“Hello, Xander, how are you?” Mrs. Hart greeted him sweetly, which took him aback.
“I’m here to pick up Rachel,” he fidgeted slightly waiting for her to lose her temper.
“She doesn’t want to go with you anymore, Xander.” Mr. Hart spoke up from behind his wife.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Hart, but we both know that’s not true,” Xander retorted.
“Rachel, would you like to go with Xander?” Mr. Hart asked smiling wickedly. He pulled the door open wider revealing what was within. With this new perspective, Xander could see Rachel sitting on the couch in the living room, her head bound in a bandage.
“Who’s Xander?” Rachel turned toward the door looking bewildered.
“NO!” Xander cried. “How could you do that to her?”
“How could you brainwash her into thinking she wants to grow old and die?” Mrs. Hart’s voice was shrill; her eyes ablaze.
Xander shoved his way past Mr. and Mrs. Hart and fell at Rachel’s feet. “Rachel, please!”
“Rachel, dear, this is Xander, you’ve known him your whole life. You just don’t remember right now; it’s the effects of your surgery. You two will be married soon, though.” Mrs. Hart let out a petite nearly maniacal laugh.
Xander picked Rachel up, “No, I’m taking her with me.” Rachel struggled but she was too weak to fight off this stranger. As Xander reached the front door, a team of government officials removed Rachel from his arms and grabbed him, pulling him out into the hall.
“Goodbye, son. See you soon.” Mr. Hart nodded brusquely shutting the door in Xander’s face. He struggled against the men holding him, but they were too many and too strong.