Evenings like these had become very rare, sitting outside under the stars in our backyard. I often wondered what was beyond just the fence. Mike, my husband, had even lit a few candles and hung lights on the porch to set a romantic mood. We were celebrating our ten-year anniversary that evening. I had cooked steak—that was Mike’s favorite. Due to the cost of meat, we rarely get to eat meat nowadays. Especially not steak, but Mike had pulled some strings, so I prepared it for tonight. We saved the good stuff for special occasions only. We enjoyed our peaceful candle-lit dinner, and the steak was the most amazing steak we had ever had.
We were laughing and sharing memories of our time together in college, until I remembered that I hadn’t gotten us any drinks. Mike, the gentleman as he was, offered to drive into town to get us our favorite wine, but I was hesitant to let him go. It was dangerous, going outside at a time like this. Crime was recurrent and it was getting worse. Due to the high level of crime, it was against the law to buy a house with no security system installed; it didn’t matter if you had housing insurance. A security system was mandatory, like seat belts were in cars. The indigenous still lived without security systems because they couldn’t afford to have them. They couldn’t afford anything. Those that were lucky enough would be put in government buildings where they were assigned twenty-four hour security. Those that were not so lucky made their way on the streets.
Thinking about the indigenous made me afraid to celebrate my anniversary. I knew someone out there wanted what I had, so I never went a second taking anything for granted. I once felt what it was like to want something that someone else had, and I didn’t want anyone else to ever feel that way.
“Oh, come on, honey. We can’t end this night without your favorite Clos Du Bois,” Mike insisted. It made me giggle whenever he said Clos Du Bois because of the way he said it with a fake French accent and a smirk. When he promised he would be quick, I begged him to stay. But he wanted everything to be perfect for just one night. He wasn’t going to take no for an answer, so I let him go.
Mike had been gone for nearly twenty minutes when I looked outside the window for the fifth time. He didn’t bring his cell phone with him; it was too dangerous to do so. Everyone’s cell phones had receivers in them that were easily traceable by the common thief. If the thieves picked up traces of anyone entering the city at night, they would track them down and mug them. Initially these receivers had been installed by the government as a protection for everyone. That’s what the government told us, at least. You were tracked and traced everywhere you went with your cell phone. It began to be too much for some people. Too much that some people had learned not to keep their cell phones on them anymore.
It had been forty-five minutes since Mike had left to go get the wine. I was now annoyed and angry at him. Why did he always have to try and make everything perfect? Why couldn’t he just be happy with the steak and water? Part of me was scared that something had happened to him. Anxiously, I looked outside the window again. This time I saw a van, an unusual looking, but familiar van. It was white with a sign on it saying, “Safety For System.” I recognized it immediately. This was the same company that had installed everyones’ security systems. Why were they here? I wondered. Our system was on and working. I tried to get a better look at the van. It was too dark for me to see anyone, if there was anyone. I grabbed the house phone and dialed the number for the security system watch control to see if there was a problem with our system. The phone kept dialing, and the automated system didn’t seem to have a proper response for, “Why is there a van outside my house?!”
In frustration, I hung up. I looked outside the window again, for probably the hundredth time, and the van was still there. The lights were turned off, like someone had just left it there. I decided to turn off my lights, too. Maybe they saw me looking at them. I was pretty sure they did, but it wasn’t like I could do anything about them. The automated system couldn’t help me, and I was too afraid to go outside. I thought about calling the police station, but I stopped myself, remembering that there was always a cop driving around our neighborhood, checking for suspicious behavior. I decided to wait to see if he would pass by, and after a few minutes, he did. He slowed down as he got closer to the van. He knew something was wrong. The officer got out of the car and began to circle the van.
And then everything happened all at once.
It was dark in my house, and I found myself stuck by the window, staring outside in fear. I gripped the curtains, I was so terrified. The officer had finished circling the van and began to walk up the driveway to my front door. Right before the officer would have knocked, the door of the van opened swiftly. A man dressed in black with a gun ran up to the cop and shot him in the back of the head. The man proceeded to drag the officer’s lifeless body into the van. Another man jumped out of the van and into the patrol car and drove away. I felt like I could have thrown up. Barely thirty seconds had gone by. My mouth was hanging wide open. I thought I was screaming, but it was only in my head.
Did this really just happen?! I kept thinking. It happened so fast, it made me think I was delusional. I rushed to get my phone, but remembered the tracer on it. They, whoever they were, would immediately notice a call to the police from my phone. It was only a matter of time before they were going to get in the house. I had to come up with a plan quickly.
That’s when I saw the flashing light beaming from the car pulling up, the sound of our garage door opening. Mike! I rushed over to the window again, and the van was gone. I didn’t understand. Mike came in to find me in a panic. He flipped on the lights. I couldn’t get the words out fast enough to tell him what had happened, so I just stood there quietly in shock.
“Honey, are you alright?” he asked.
I was trying to get the words out, but I was stumbling and stuttering.
“Lisa!” he cried. It’s not often that I have trouble finding my words. Mike knew something was going on.“What’s wrong?”
“The van,” I pushed the words out, “did you see the van?”
“What van? What are you talking about?” He looked at me with a look that made me feel like I was crazy.
“Mike, there was a van outside! Two guys killed the neighborhood patrol officer!” I realized I did sound crazy. A few minutes ago, I was wondering if it really did happen, but I knew I wasn’t crazy. I saw what I saw.
Mike was looking at me, trying to figure out what to say without sounding like he was questioning my sanity. “You saw a van outside the house?” he asked.
“Yes! Yes! There was a van, two guys, and they killed the officer! Did you hear me?”
By the look in his eyes, he thought I had lost it. It wasn’t unheard of that people were going crazy these days, delusional, claiming they saw horrific events taking place. Those people ended up in asylums.
“Lisa, I heard what you said. I just want you to think about it. No one was out there when I drove up.”
I took a hard look at Mike. I had been married to this guy for ten years; he knew I wasn’t crazy.
“Okay,” I said. “I just need to sit down.” I took a few moments, Mike sat next to me, even put his arms around me for comfort, but I wasn’t comforted at all. I didn’t know what to think. What happened out there?! I kept asking myself. I sat there in his arms and absorbed my thoughts until I drifted sleep.
I found myself at nine am the next morning on the couch, the sun beaming on my face. I wiped the drool off my mouth and stood up. The events of the evening before hadn’t reached my mind yet. I was walking towards the kitchen to make myself a cup of coffee when I heard the garage door open and our alarm system saying, “Garage door is now opened.”
Mike joined me in the kitchen. He smiled and gave me a kiss on my forehead, then walked over to the kitchen sink and washed his hands. He didn’t say a word, just kept looking at me with a soft smile. Then he asked, “How are you?”
It took me a minute to respond. Usually he greeted me with a ‘good morning.’ Something about the way he asked me how I was made me remember the events of last night. They quickly shuffled through my mind. “I’m fine,” I said and raised my cup of coffee to take a sip. “How are you?” I asked.
Something was off with the way Mike was behaving. I wanted to bring it up, but I knew it would be a bad idea. He wiped his hands off with the kitchen rag and threw the rag into the laundry room across from the kitchen. “I’ve got a lot of work to do today,” he said. He looked me right in the eyes, as if I hadn’t just told him that I witnessed a murder take place outside our house last night.
“Mike…” I started to say, but he interrupted me
“Lisa, look. I know you were having quite a night last night.”
“Mike, I need you to listen to me!” I pleaded.
“I just don’t have time to go over this again,” he replied as he walked away.
I poured the rest of my coffee down the sink. I didn’t have much of an appetite for anything. When I sat down at the table, I pulled out my laptop and searched the news for any missing cops. No results showed up, so I decided to call my security system. I was put on hold, and finally a lady picked up the phone.
“My name is Sandra, thank you for calling Safety For System, how can I help you?”
“Yes, um, my name is Lisa. Could you please check our account for any recent requests?”
“Sure, what is your account number?” she asked.
I told Sandra our account number hesitantly, afraid of the answer.
“Okay, I see that you called us yesterday for a van to be sent out. It’s showing here that they reported a request to change your password. Is that correct?” She asked. I stayed silent for a while—I didn’t know what to say. Eventually, Sandra cleared her throat. “Mrs. Afford, are you there?” she asked.
“Thank you, Sandra,” I said nervously and hung up. Then I went straight to Mike’s office, where he usually decided to bury himself in work. I didn’t bother knocking on the door. When I opened the door, I saw him wiping down his gun and putting it back in the safe. He looked at me as if he expected an explanation for why I just barged into his office. “Did you change the password for the security system?” I asked.
“Lisa…” he began, but I interrupted him this time.
“Did you or did you not request a change for security system password?”
“Lisa, if you would just let me explain…” he said trying to calm me down. He tried to get me to sit down, but I was overwhelmed with disgust, so I walked out of his office.
What was he doing to us, our marriage our life together? We both had lost our parents, we only had each other. We tried for years to conceive a child—endless nights and days on fertility drugs and treatments and getting negative results again and again. It had broken our hearts, but made us stronger as a couple. Even when we had decided on adopting, only to receive the news that it was no longer legal to adopt in our district, Mike had always been by my side. Why was this happening now? Why was I feeling like I was losing him?
“Lisa,” Mike said as he walked into our bedroom. I pretended like I didn’t hear him come in. I just covered myself up with a blanket. “I know this is difficult for you, and as much as I would like to save you from all the harm out there, I can’t. I know that now” he said.
“What do you mean, Mike? What harm are you talking about?”
“I can’t talk about it here, Lisa. We need to go away for a while.”
“We can’t go away, you know that. There are laws about that.”
“It’s not safe here!”
“Just tell me what is going on! Did you change the password?”
“No, I didn’t. Come on, Lisa, you know me!”
“Then who did?” I was starting to get angry now. Why wouldn’t Mike, my own husband, tell me what was going on?!
“I can’t talk about it now. It’s too dangerous,” Mike told me.
“Well, if it wasn’t you who changed the password, then who was it? What about the guy who got murdered?!”
“Get a bag ready, and meet me in the car. We can make it out of town before the gate closes.”
“Are you crazy?! If they find out that we’re not here, they will find us and… and…”
“And what, Lisa? This place has us all brainwashed. We can’t live like this not knowing what will happen to us if we leave our house. Once we’re out of here, I’ll tell you everything I know.” Then Mike left the room with a small bag.
I didn’t know what to think. We had been abiding citizens to the New Orders for six years now. I felt like I was breaking some agreement that I had stayed committed to. Which I technically was.
I looked at the time. There were two hours and fifteen minutes before the gate closed. If we wanted any chance of getting out, it had to be now. So, I quickly grabbed a bag and threw in a few necessities and met Mike in the car. He looked at me and his eyes reassured me that he was the same ole-Mike that he had always been. The same Mike that I had met in college, who was the president of the debate club. The same Mike who graduated a year later just so he could graduate with me, and the same Mike who proposed to me at our three year anniversary on stage at our graduation with the song by Bruno Mars, “I Think I Want to Marry You.” It was like nothing was different.
The drive out of town was silent. Neither of us said a word. There were so many questions were going through my mind, and I could tell that Mike’s only focus was to get us beyond city borders.
We arrived at the border control an hour before shutdown. Mike explained to the guards that he was sent by his job, The Ministry of Truth. He held a respectable position, and was allowed more leniency than the average citizen. “We’ll make it back before shutdown,” he nodded to the guard and drove off.
It was an hour before sunset, and as we drove out further than I had been in years, I couldn’t help but notice the beauty of the mountains and trees and rivers. It reminded me of my childhood, before everything had changed. We drove by a deer. A deer! I hadn’t seen a deer in years. I felt so alive! Why were we deprived of all of this life? This beauty? I rolled down the windows, even though it was a bit cold outside to feel the freshness of the wind.
Mike made a turn into a forest and some minutes down the path there was a little brick house. “What is this?” I asked.
“Come on, I’ll show you,” he told me. Mike pulled up to the house and parked. After he got out of the car, he opened my door for me and as we walked up to the house, Mike started to tell me about the house. “This land belonged to my parents before they passed away. They never officially left it to me, but no one really knows about this place but me… and now you.” He opened the door with a key that was hidden behind a loose brick on the house. As we walked in, I was hit by a strong smell. I couldn’t quite recognize it. It wasn’t bad, but it wasn’t good either. I looked around the room. Mike turned on the lights and pulled out blankets. He told me that we wouldn’t be able to start a fire because the smoke from the chimney would give away our location.
“Mike, tell me what’s going on. Now,” I demanded. I looked at him with a serious look and that’s when he told me everything.
Mike had been working for the Ministry of Truth since the New Order had taken over. They governed our entire district. In 2016, we were on the edge of World War III, although it never really happened quite the way we were made to believe. Many people fled the country, finding opportunities overseas or up north. The country known as The United States of America, separated into two sections, East and West. The West was free from most of the propaganda following the alleged World War III, and once many of the Easterners realized that their government had been lying to them, they tried to flee to the West. This became quite a problem for the leaders of the East because they were losing control of their people. If they continued to lose their citizens, they would inevitably lose their land as well, they thought. So they founded The Ministry of Truth.
Early on, Mike had secured a position with them for the skills he possessed in technology. They offered him great incentives and we needed them at the time to financially support our fertility treatments. Mike went on to tell me that during his time working for The Ministry of Truth, he ran across documents that were classified. He didn’t think much of it the first time, as he thought it would be normal to for the government to have classified documents.
One day his buddy John hadn’t shown up for work. He thought John was sick, so he drove by his house on the way back home from work to check up on him. When he had arrived at John’s house, an older woman in her late fifties or early sixties, opened the door, Mike introduced himself as one of John’s coworkers. The woman informed him that John had been dead for nearly twenty years… John was her late husband. Mike didn’t understand. He had just been at work with John a few days ago… how could he have been dead for almost twenty years? It wasn’t possible.
That’s what led to Mike being skeptical about his workplace. He told me that after a couple weeks, he ran across a file of medical forms related to the fertility treatment that we, along with a few other citizens, had started. That caught his attention, and he started going through file after file, discovering that people had been prescribed fake fertility drugs. In rage, he spoke to one of the coworkers about it, but the coworker told him he really had to keep his mouth shut about those things, and that if anyone had found out that he had been digging through files he could not only get fired, but they would kill him and his wife.
“That’s why I didn’t want to believe you about the van being outside our house last night, Lisa,” he told me. “It means that someone was watching me. Us. That cop wasn’t coming to the house to make sure everything was okay… he was there to kill us. The people in that van saved our lives.”
To be continued…