It has taken me a while to gather all the information needed to make this happen.
People in this kind of position have sealed records, and barely any paper trail.
Which is why it took so long for me to put everything together for you.
Unlike the people who wrote for you before, and that indiscretion last week, I am not doing this for them. I am doing this for you.
I am doing this because I think you need it. I’ve known people who would’ve needed this. And I guess that I feel like we already know each other. Or at least you know about me. You know about love and what it does, but you don’t know that much about what guilt and impulsiveness do to a person.
That is where I come in, I guess.
I am not here to talk about myself and everything that’s happened since the last time I was inside the borders. I am here to tell you a very short story, the only kind to be enjoyed.
This story begins, as most stories do, with a character that does not yet suspect they are a character. It is easy to dismiss oneself as a character when one does not know about the genre they are living in.
Our great society thrives in your ignorance. No. Your compliance. It thrives on your comfort and lack of questioning.
The point is, no one thinks of themselves as a character until plot comes knocking on your door. By the point it does, though, you have long since ceased being complacent.
Our character lived in a small area near the woods, not too far but not too close to where you used to live. You might remember this part of town referred to as ‘The Pit’. Partly because of its circular shape, and the fact that it was surrounded by thick woods, which made it feel isolated. And partly because it was in one of the poorer parts of town, which made it prone to delinquency, and other illegal dalliances.
They lived in a small house near the mouth of the pit. They had three older brothers and two little sisters. They regret to realize that they do not remember their names anymore. They do remember their home. It’s yawing doors and windows, and the well preserved sickly yellow of the walls.
The thing about the house was that it had always wanted to be more than it was, to hold more, to be better. Houses, however, don’t always get what they want. This house in particular never held more that eight bodies inside. In fact, as time went by, it progressively held less and less.
The first thing it lost was a child. It lost one of its inhabitants to the bitter end of a knife. It was not uncommon out there. People was lost and killed in The Pit all the time. There was nothing siblings and parents could do to hold onto people that wanted to be taken, to be lost.
That was a bitter lesson, something that our character couldn’t, and didn’t, want to understand, but had to.
That was their first step into losing complacency.
Usually when people are lost, others don’t know about it. No one hears about other people going missing. Not even from their own families. People cannot possibly remember ever having someone who was lost.
Of course that it is sad, but it is part of reality.
People go missing, and people forget. That is that.
But our character couldn’t forget. They didn’t know that they desperately needed to but their minds could not allow them to. It’s about the mind, you see, the way it works in a different way for some people.
The first -and hopefully only- time you go through reconditioning at age six, The Machine makes sure to change everything that makes you who you are. The Machine makes forgetting easier and you mind more malleable. For most people, it works. But some people work differently.
Our character is one of those people. People who after their first reconditioning can still remember, and question things. Of course that they were different for other reasons as well, but you cannot remember this. You cannot remember them and who they were for you.
That is okay. That is in fact, part of your nature.
Our character had learnt so many years ago that life is unfair. That it takes and it gives and it trades.
Or not. That was the machine.
The machine took and gave and traded. It traded body parts for people and things that it had taken before. The Machine never asks what you want because it thinks it knows you better than anyone. Almost every time, The Machine is right.
Trades are as easy as they are painful, and our character made them all once they realized there was a place where people would go.
The old house. Remember that? Over on the other side of the town? It was beyond tall gates and thick shrubs. It was a place that, anywhere else within the borders of this little country, would have carried the scent of sweet, smoked flesh.
They heard it said around town, that people would go there. That people wouldn’t return, unless someone was ready to make a trade.
So they did.
Years after the house had lost a son, it lost a mother. And our character went there.
They made a stop on the way to school. They were so nervous that they dropped their bag. Someone stopped to ask if they were okay. They smiled and said they were fine (they were not) and life carried on.
They went to the big house that afternoon.
They traded nimble fingers and memories for their mother.
The trade was simple. They only had to enter a big room with mirrored walls and sterile looking people. They faintly remembered entering a room similar to this in their childhood. The contraption and procedure were still familiar enough that they welcomed pain and discomfort as if they were long lost friends.
The people in that room cut into their head and pushed and pulled and took and gave, until our character was nothing.
And that is how they lost their hands. And that is how they gained a mother.
It was not the same mother (it could never be), the same way they were not the same character (they could never be).
They made this trade several times over the next years. It’s addicting, you see. You give something to the Machine and in change it keeps who you love safe.
The Machine can never give you safety, it can only take it away from you. Once you become aware, once reconditioning stops working, that’s it.
You will never be safe in your home. You will never be home.
But our character didn’t care about safety anymore. Had they ever cared? They wore soft shirts and flowing skirts at home, but never to school. And after a while, they stopped even wearing them at home. Why would they? They weren’t a person anymore, they were nothing. They even stopped asking to be called Rosie instead of José and stuck to clothes more suited to the bulk of their bodies. They no longer tried to hide that their body was not equipped with soft arches and curves.
And then the Machine came for them.
It did not plead for it was not necessary. They were coming for someone who had long since lost parts of their body and being, and when they asked if they had anything else to give they already knew the answer.
Because what else can you do? When the Machine asks for your compliance you have to give it. Especially when it’s the one thing you can still give. Because when the Machine comes for you it’s because it needs you, because it thrives on it, because otherwise you’re useless.
Nothing useless ever survives.
And so they went.
No one will ever tell you just how much that decision hurts. How it pulls and scrapes something out of you as you walk away from the only home you will ever know. I guess it’s because Screws are better off not discussing pain with people who know nothing but the unkindness of the Machine.
At least if you pretend you’re part of the Machine you can stop feeling the void in your chest where something used to rest.
At least when Dan walks into their home (out in Pullman Street where plants grow in muted colors and people without an ID can’t go in) they can, for a second, pretend they are not Rosie Marquez. They can avoid thinking of pale yellow walls and a house filled with the smell of ever baking bread. They can pretend not to be home.
They are not a teenage girl in a boy’s body living on the most dangerous part of a town that will never understand her. They are not Rosie losing friend, after friend, after friend, as reconditioning and The Machine take them away.
Or at least, they could pretend and be Dan until their eyes fell on a familiar name and a familiar face. They saw the stamp and ID number of a town off by the woods, with little creaking houses that have yawning doors and windows, and all at once, she was back there, sitting outside school on a random morning, about to make her first trade.
And you linger over her as you see her. You pause and she wonders, for a flickering second if you see her. You do not.
But she asked for you, before her body could remember that she was no longer Rosie but Dan, a Screw. They forgot and asked, and The Machine agreed, because The Machine doesn’t care as long as you do your work. For the Machine, you have no needs and wants, because you ceased to be human years ago. Even before you were bought.
They observe you long enough to learn your routines. They figure out what you do and don’t. It is plain for them to see why the Machine chose you. Why you need to be watched and kept in line.
They keep tabs on you, often handing you something you forgot to buy at the store, telling you you dropped it. Sometimes they see you on the street and greet you. They’re not scared to do so, they know you won’t remember. There is a certain amount of power that comes from knowing no one else remembers, and no one else can see. As Screws, sometimes we abuse that power.
They were planning on carrying with that. They planned to push you back into normal patterns and helping you become complacent again. But you were more problematic than they anticipated. You made questions that had no answers and noticed things you had no business noticing.
You could not understand that you needed to be complacent.
And so they started to lie. They made up your routines and called in favors to help keep you in check. They knew it was useless, they knew you were not the friend they remember (you could never be) but they desperately needed to save you.
If they saved you then they would finally be useful, then they’d saving at least something. As Screws, we never help anyone.
But then the lies were not enough.
And they had to be Rosie and remember you. She had to remember the feeling of soft shirts and wide skirts against hairy legs. She remembered sharing ear buds with you, and listening to hoarse signing through her hammering heart. She remembers how it felt to laugh with you, and cry with you, and fight and kiss and regret with you.
And she remembered how much you loved stories. She remembered how you carried them along with you in books and clothes. And she wanted to give that back to you, to reach you.
And as she reached you, she tried to warn you.
But you never listened. You became paranoid. You became reclusive.
And they had to face that they had gone too far. And retreat.
But by then it was already too late and The Machine had noticed you and wondered. And so as a Screw, they did the one thing that Screws know how to do. They deflected the attention, planted small bits and pieces of evidence that would all point toward their own incompetence. And they made sure to show that you were complacent, that you were useful.
They put themselves in jeopardy for you. They were not being complacent but could they still be useful?
Well, I guess that’s what the Machine is trying to find out.
I just hope that she is.