A short story by Kevin Jay North
Copyright 1990, 1991

Written February 1990. Last modified 6 November 1991.


A soft electronic pulse echoed in a compact bedroom. Within seconds, eight dreary faces lifted themselves from the four bunk beds set around the room's square walls. The eight boys in this bedroom unit now had ten minutes to get out of bed, get dressed and report to the main hall.

It was the year 2055, and on this particular day, one of the boys seemed more disturbed than usual, and his frown was noticed from a nearby bunk.

"Hey, Joey," a voice said, "what's wrong?"

"Oh, nothing," he replied. "Actually, David, to tell you the truth I'm sick of this. I hate living in such an orderly manner. I wish I had the freedom to get up when I want to, to have what I want to have for breakfast, to..."

"Relax, Joey," David interrupted. "You're just a little tired today, that's all. And we're not really restricted -- you've forgotten the recesses when we can do whatever we want. You certainly enjoy those. C'mon, let's get dressed."

Exactly ten minutes from the first pulse, another sounded. A group of 274 children were already lined up in order at attention in a long and otherwise empty white hall. A few moments later, an official stepped into the hall with a list in his hand.

"Aaron L65," he called out.

"Here," came a voice from within.

"Adam Q201."


This was the daily roll call of every child in the building complex. Everyone was standing perfectly still, awaiting his or her name to be called, except for one person.

"See, they don't even trust us," Joey whispered to David, who was standing beside him.

"Shh!" he hissed back.

The day before, Joey was just as happy and normal as everyone else, and he never even had thought twice about such things as the roll call, but yesterday had changed all that.

He was at the afternoon recess, taking a break from a game of tag. He sat down in front of the heavy chain fence that surrounded the playground, and he began to stare at the large and beautiful houses that were on the other side. That's where all the adults are, he thought.

He then turned around and glanced at the complex: tall and barren, an infinitely simple design of a cube. This is where all of us children are, he thought. And he was locked in, trapped by this huge fence. Still, one day he would be an adult, and he would be out. Then he would be able to see the world and have a house of his very own. This wasn't the first time Joey ever looked out and wondered, but yesterday something strange happened.

"Hello there," came a voice from behind him.

Startled, Joey jumped up. Then, slowly, he turned around.

"Hello there," came the voice again.

Joey was surprised to see a woman standing on the other side of the fence. An outsider, he thought. Did she speak to me?

"How are you today? What's your name?"

The words came slowly. "J-J-Joey. M-My name is Joey M103. I am twelve years old."

"Hello Joey, I'm Judy Simpson," the woman said. "Nice to meet you."

Joey tried to respond, but suddenly he noticed one of the building's officers standing next to him.

"Hey, beat it!" the officer shouted at the lady.

Sadly, she walked slowly away. The he then turned to Joey.

"Well, c'mon, go back and play now."

Joey turned away, and he went back to play tag. Yet he wasn't the same. Throughout the rest of recess he played tag only by instinct, because thoughts of what was beyond the fence -- including the strange, yet friendly woman -- kept racing through his mind.

So today after breakfast, while most of the children were out playing, laughing and having a good time like any normal child, Joey was staring through the fence again. David came up and spoke to him from behind.

"Hey, Joey, what in the world is wrong with you today?" he asked.

"Just look out there," Joey said. "Look at all the huge, fancy houses."

"You'll be there someday," David said. "So c'mon, let's go play tag."

Joey continued speaking, as if David had not even spoken. "Think of all the people out there, happy, living free. Why should all of us children be any different? Why are we all fenced up in here, cut off from the adults?"

"Does it matter?" David asked, puzzled.

"Of course it does!" Joey shot back. "They never tell you any of those secrets. Don't you want to know what goes on out there? I met an outsider yesterday. They seem so nice."

"You MET one? Joey, that's impossible! They never come near this place!"

"Well, at least this one was nice, and she really wanted to talk to me. I want to get out now and find her."

"Get out?! Now you've really gone out of your mind. I'm going to play tag. So long."

But Joey was serious -- he HAD to find out what was out there and who that strange woman was. He left the playground and carefully crawled along the side of the building, keeping his eyes wide open for the slightest hint of a building officer. None were around. He came to the front gate, which, surprisingly, was open. Taking advantage of this lucky opportunity, he slowly opened the gate and walked outside.

He was free, he thought, and what a different feeling it was. Instead of being caged in a tight block, he was now in an infinitely large space. He stood on a city street for the very first time. He didn't even notice the car behind him.

Honk! Honk! went the car, and Joey, after seeing the car, darted immediately for the nearest sidewalk. The car then stopped suddenly, and the driver looked out. A door flung open.

"Hey, Joey, get in!" the driver called.

Joey was surprised and scared, but he looked and found that the driver of the car was actually Judy Simpson, the woman he had met! How could he refuse? He jumped in the car in an instant. Then he found himself moving along a street, moving faster and faster, and houses whirling by on either side of him. Wheeee, a huge world was just floating by.

Judy put on the brake, made a sharp turn and came to a halt. Opening the door, Joey found himself in front of a large and beautiful home, like the many he had seen from the fence.

"H-How many people live here," he asked, finally speaking to the strange woman again.

"Only two, just my husband and I. This is our house. Come inside and we can talk."

Joey anxiously followed Judy inside the house. Instead of blank walls and simplicity, he saw complicated designs made from strange materials in many shades of color.

"Come this way," Judy said. "You won't report me now, will you?"

Joey shook his head vigorously.

"Good. It's against the law for you to be here, so you can only stay for a while. I just wanted someone else to talk to. Can I get you something to drink?"

This last remark surprised him, as no one had ever asked him if he was thirsty before, but he nodded and smiled.

"Here you go," Judy said, handing him a glass of water. "I'm sorry, you seem so quiet. Do you like to hear me talk?"

"Y-Yes," he said. "It's fine. I've never felt so good before. Tell me, why are we all locked up in that building?"

"Well, it's a long story. You see, a hundred years ago, everyone had children. I mean, instead of all the children being locked up in a building, they were taken care of by the adults. Every child had two special people -- a mother and a father -- that would personally take care of him or her. They were always there when needed and it was a very loving relationship. Many mothers and fathers even had more than one child.

"The mother, the woman, was usually the closest companion; she ran the household and cooked the food and did all sorts of chores, and she looked after the children during the day. The father, the man, had a job away from home during the day, and he supported everyone financially. He came back for supper, and everyone - the whole family - was together all evening.

"But all that changed in the late 1990s. Both mothers and fathers wanted jobs away from home to support the family, and they wanted to bring in a lot of extra money to buy fancier things and make their life better. But that took a lot of time. All day long, no one was home with the children, and at night they couldn't be with them since they had to do the household chores. People began to have fewer children, since it was so hard to raise one. Some didn't want to have any.

"The few children that were around were ignored. Since their mothers and fathers were too busy for them, they didn't have time to love and care for them. Children weren't taught the right things, and so many of them became criminals or homeless wanderers.

"The government couldn't allow this to go on, so a new law was passed, stating that every child born on or after January 1, 2020, must live in caring centers - those big buildings like the one you're in - with a staff of people to take care of them.

She paused for a minute. "Would you like some more water?" she asked Joey.

"No, thank you," he replied. "You've been so nice already."

"Well," she continued, "after the law was passed, no one had children anymore. No one bothered, since they didn't think there was any use in it. So then another law was passed, forcing mothers and fathers to donate two children to the caring centers. And that's how things are now."

After a long pause, Joey asked, "Do you remember how it was?"

"Yes, I was a lucky child," she said. "I was born in 2011. While most other mothers ignored their children, my mother quit her job just so she could love and take care of me. Financially, we were a lot more poor than our neighbors, but it didn't matter. We were all happy, a loving and caring family.

"I wish I could have my own children, like my mother. Unlike everyone else, I know what it's like to have a mother, and I'd give up my part-time job to become one."

"But you HAD to have two children, didn't you?" Joey asked.

"Yes, the law said I had to," she replied, "but I had to give them up to the centers. I wish I could have kept them! It's so nice to be with you now, to see what it might have been like, although I wouldn't have talked so much, but instead listened."

A clock on the wall chimed the hour.

"Oh my gosh!" Joey exclaimed, "Recess is over!"

They both jumped up simultaneously and ran out of the house together for the car, and in a flash they were off. When they approached the caring center, Judy turned quickly onto a side street to drop Joey off.

"Goodbye, Joey, I hope I can see you again someday," Judy said.

"Goodbye," said Joey, with tears in his eyes.

The car drove silently away, and disappeared as it rounded a corner. Joey turned around and dismally walked toward the complex. Upon arrival, he was stunned to find the gate locked.

A man walked up to the gate from the inside.

"Welcome back, Joey," he said, with a strange grin.

Before he knew it, Joey was facing the center's administrator in his office, and he knew he was in serious trouble.

"Now, what were you doing outside the fence?" he asked him, staring with his inquisitive eyes.

"I-I-I was just looking around at all the neat houses," he said. "I wanted to see them close up."

The administrator leaned over to get closer.

"You must be aware of the gravity of the crime you've committed."

"Y-Yes, sir," Joey said, shivering.

"You will be placed in solitary confinement for the rest of today. I want you to think about what you've done, and remember why you..."

"Excuse me, sir," another official broke in, "there is someone here to meet you from the central office."

The administrator suddenly looked frustrated. He turned to Joey.

"I'll be back in a few minutes," he said, and he left the room.

Here was Joey, all left alone in a strange office, with a desk full of papers and cabinets lining the walls the only things to look at.

What have I done? he thought. Now that I know the truth, I'm going to hate it here for the rest of my childhood, while everyone else will have a grand time. I'm just going to be the un-child, the only one who knows he should have had a real mother and father. The others don't know; they don't have to suffer, but I do. I'm doomed!

Staring around the office, something finally caught his eye - a file cabinet marked J-K. My name must be in there, he thought. Maybe it shows where I really am from.

He sneaked over, ever so carefully, and cautiously slid the door open. Inside he located a folder marked JOEY M103, and, holding it open with his hands, he found a birth certificate. On this, below his birth date, his parents were identified. Suddenly he slammed the door closed in shock, for written on the certificate was the name of his real mother, Judy C. Simpson.

Document last modified 21 Aug 99. (C) 1990,91,96,99 by Kevin Jay North; see also full copyright notice & disclaimers..

[BACK] to Kevin's Potpourri

This page hosted by GeoCities. Get your own Free Home Page