The story below is a winner from our Fiction Fantastic Young Writers Contest, open to all youth in Lane County. For more information on this contest, including how to enter, visit here. Support this program with a donation.
You can purchase this story in the 2021 Winners Anthology, A New Story Rises here.
“CYAH” by Gracee Whiteaker, Junction City High School
Third Place, High School Level, 2021
By Gracee Whiteaker
Junction City High School
77812 wakes up. It stands up to silence the alarm going off in its head. 77812 goes to its drawer. 77812 opens its drawer and changes into working clothes. Then 77812 walks out of the female sleeping quarters and follows the steady stream of workers into the dining hall. 77812 scans in, and follows the line of workers to a counter where each worker receives a tray. 77812 sits at a table and consumes the food and drink on the tray. An alarm rings and all workers stand up and walk out the opposite door that they came in. A line of vehicles wait to receive the workers. 77812 walks to its vehicle and shuffles into the back. The vehicle takes them to their assigned houses. The vehicle stops at the edge of a street. 77812 steps out of the vehicle and walks up to the house where she works. 77812 goes around to the back door and into the kitchen. 77812 begins to prepare for the day ahead, she knows it will be another hour before Ma’am wakes up. Once everything is ready for the day, 77812 sits down in a chair in the kitchen and waits. Eventually 77812 hears Ma’am coming down the stairs into the living room.
“CYAH,” Ma’am calls. 77812 walks out of the kitchen and stands in front of her.
“How may I assist you, Ma’am?” 77812 says as she does every morning and whenever Ma’am summons her.
“I am ready for breakfast,” Ma’am says. “A quail egg omelet with ham and toast.”
“As you wish, Ma’am.” 77812 turns and heads back into the kitchen. 77812 searches through the virtual cookbook that is backed up on the hard drive inside her head. She finds quail egg omelet. 77812 goes through the steps, cooking the omelet perfectly as always. Once it is ready, 77812 takes it from the kitchen into the dinning room and sets the place for Ma’am. Then she goes from the dining room to the living room where Ma’am sits waiting.
“Is my meal ready?” Ma’am asks.
“Yes,” 77812 responds. “Your place has been set at the dining room table.”
“You are dismissed,” Ma’am says. 77812 walks out of the room and back into the kitchen, sits back on her stool and waits until she is summoned again. 77812 is summoned once more when Ma’am’s daughter calls.
“CYAH, please prepare my usual breakfast.” 77812 stands up and searches through a different folder also backed up on her hard drive. 77812 prepares the meal and lays it out on the dining room table. For the rest of the day, 77812 waits on Ma’am and her daughter, coming whenever they call until work is over. When the day’s work is over, 77812 goes out the back door and is loaded into a vehicle and shipped back to the dome. When 77812 gets back to the dome, she heads back to the cafeteria. 77812 and the other workers eat what they are given, then 77812 follows the stream of workers back to the female living quarters. 77812 changes into night clothes and goes to sleep.
* * *
The next day 77812 wakes up to the ringing of the alarm in her head. 77812 follows the same routine that she does every day serving Ma’am. When 77812 is shipped back to the dome, she gets out of her transport vehicle and follows the other workers into the dining hall. As 77812 walks toward the line, another worker bumps into her. 77812 stumbles back. 77812 looks up at the worker who has bumped into her.
“Sorry,” he says, and keeps walking. There is something about this worker . . . 77812 remembers him, but from where, she doesn’t know. For a split second 77812 sees a flash of emotion across the worker’s face, but as soon as it appears it’s gone and the worker’s face is once again hard as stone. 77812 continues into the dining hall to eat, then 77812 goes to the living quarters, changes into night clothes and gets into bed. But sleep does not come right away. Then I realize something: I am 77812.
* * *
I wake up to the ringing of the alarm in my head. I exit the female quarters and walk across the concrete lot to the dining hall. As I am in line, I see the familiar worker from yesterday. The person behind me steps on my heel, I realize I need to move up in line. I get food and eat it, then I go off to work. When I return from Ma’am’s house, I look for the worker again, he is nowhere in sight. What will do if I see him again? But I cannot answer my own question.
* * *
I wake up to the ringing of the alarm in my head. I change into day clothes and go to the cafeteria. I look up toward the top of the dome, the sky is grey but is getting brighter as the sun rises. I place my hand against the sensor at the door. The sensor turns green and I go inside and get a tray of food. I eat the food, and soon after I finish, an alarm rings out throughout the arena. I stand up and walk outside the cafeteria. I walk past multiple vehicles trying to find my own. I get in the back of my vehicle and grab a handle on the ceiling. I watch out of an iron barred window as the grey vehicle I am in leaves the dome. I go to work like I always do, waiting on Ma’am’s every want and need. Then later that day the doorbell rings.
“CYAH, get the door,” Ma’am calls. I get up from my chair and go to the front door. I look through the peephole and open the door, surprised to see another worker. He wears the same uniform as me, grey pants and shirt. I look at his face and quickly realize he is the worker I recognized last night. He has a package in his hand.
“For Ms. Bailey,” he says, holding the package out to me.
“Thank you,” I say looking up at him. Trying to remember where I have seen him before. The worker nods as he leaves, as he turns around, I see his number on the back of his shirt. I take a picture and download it to my hard drive.
“Here you go, Ma’am.” I hand her the package.
I study the picture I took when I get back in the kitchen. 77339 is his number. I still can’t figure out where I remember him from.
That night back in the dome, I lie in my bunk looking at the wood above my head. Questions cascade through my mind, but the one that keeps reappearing is, Why can’t I remember? Then I have an idea. Why didn’t I think of this before? I imagine the search engine implanted into my hard drive. CYAH I think, and the word is searched and the information comes to me. C.Y.A.H. is an acronym meaning Cyborg Assistant For homes. This is a factory name given to all cyborgs as they enter their service. I concentrate and scroll through articles about C.Y.A.H. I can’t find anything, so I switch over to the hidden web. The government still doesn’t know this exists, but the people in the lower half do. How do I know this? I wonder as I search C.Y.A.H. again.
One article catches my eye, it is simply called: “The Uprising.” I read through it, a rebellion is taking place, the people are fighting back. My pulse races, one sentence in particular catches my eye: “After this, the Draft will not continue.” The draft, where have I heard that before? Then all of a sudden pain overwhelms my head, my web page shuts down, and my head is dark, no more search engine, no more information. All is quiet for just a split second and then everything comes rushing back. I see myself four years ago laughing with 77339 as we walk through the halls of our high school. Aleesia is my name, I remember. I see me and my mom having dinner together from years ago. Memories come rushing back, the good and the bad, building a snowman with my father. Why isn’t he in any of my other memories? Then I remember, he was drafted like I was. But he wasn’t assigned to be a C.Y.A.H. like I was, he was built for the factories. Images of me with my mother, my father, and Adam! His name comes to me, as I watch the memories of my own life flash through my mind.
I flash out of the memories in a cold sweat. I wipe the tears off of my soaked cheeks. And now only one thought remains in my mind. I need to find them.
* * *
When I arrive at work on the next day, Ma’am asks me for breakfast.
“Yes, Ma’am,” I say, trying to mask the panic inside. My hard drive is broken. I can’t see any of the recipes I used to have. The awakening broke my hard drive. I make the meal from memory, relying on years of habit. When Ma’am eats it, she seems pleased enough.
After work on the fifth day, I find Adam, my pulse quickens thinking about what I’m going to do. I see my face in the reflection of the black-tinted windows of the cafeteria. My cheeks are flushed red.
My hands get sweaty and my stomach tightens as I grab his arm and pull him out of the cafeteria. No one notices us as we sneak out.
“What are you doing?” he asks me, jogging to keep up with my run.
“Shhhh,” I say. I watch as transport vehicles start pulling out of the dome. “When I jump, you jump, too.” I say. His usual vacant stare looks confused. It is as if there is something happening under the surface, a battle in his mind.
“Trust me.” I start to run, pulling him behind me. Then the moment of truth, I hope that he jumps, too. I count the timing in my head then as the vehicle draws closer, I jump, landing on the back of the vehicle. I look behind me, our eyes lock and right before it’s too late, he jumps as well, landing right beside me. We ride on the back of the vehicle out of the dome. Then as soon as we pass the barrier, I jump off. This time 77339 follows right behind me.
“We’re out,” I whisper. The air is the clearest I have ever experienced and the colors the most vibrant I have ever seen. I grab his hand and walk over to a pond, it’s the same pond I can see from inside the dome. The grass around us is filled with yellow flowers. 77339 looks around in wonder, something awakens inside of me. It glimmered something I had never felt before, did it work? I ask myself. Did he wake up? I decide not to pressure him, instead I bend down studying the yellow flowers.
“They are called chrysanthemums,” Adam says. The glimmer in my heart grows brighter.
“They are beautiful,” I say. “Better than anything inside the dome.” I stare in silence for a moment.
“I remembered my name last night. It’s Aleesia.” I say. If we get caught, he can’t know I am fully awake, he is still loyal to the government. He says nothing.
“I remember your name, too,” I say. “It’s Adam.” Adam’s head snaps up when he hears his name. His eyes gain a sense of understanding, the glimmer in my heart glows brighter.
“I am called 77339,” he says, looking at me, the joy gone from his eyes. He looks vacant again, whatever emotion was there before is gone now. And the glimmer inside me is suffocated by the crushing reality that I am alone once again.
“Let’s go back,” I say. Without hesitation Adam walks past me into the confinement of the dome. I take a last look around. Why don’t I just stay here? I shove that thought out of my mind They’ll find me, they’ll learn that I am awake, they’ll do the surgery again . . . or worse. I decide it’s best to go back inside the dome. Before I take that dreaded step, I take one more breath of fresh air, then walk into my prison.
I go to bed without a meal and fitfully drift to sleep.
* * *
It has become much harder to work for Ma’am, I try to stay as robotic as I can, but I think she has realized something is wrong. I go back to the dome, eat dinner and look out at the pond. Adam stays in my mind. He seemed to wake up for a minute, then when I looked back he was gone. I sigh and walk back to the sleeping quarters, change into my night clothes, and get into bed. Something catches my eye on the bottom of the bunk on top of mine. The glimmer comes back burning inside of me, and I realize what it is: hope.
77339 woke up.
We will be able to face this together, I am no longer alone. And I know it’s true because, on the bottom of the bunk above me carved into the old wood is the word Aleesia, and tied next to it is a yellow chrysanthemum.
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