The Lady in Red
by Jan Cooper
It began with words whispered in her ear. Words that replayed in Charlotte’s head. “Your mother lied”. As the weeks passed, the words grew, gripping her, holding her hostage. She HAD to find the truth before the words drove her crazy.
Charlotte was awake when the National Hymn blared through the building. Even with the Goodnight mist filtering through the vents, she had difficulty sleeping. She slipped on the red dress that denoted her Public Status, flicked the pleats into place and noticed a tear near the hem. She hadn’t detected it before and there wasn’t enough time to repair the small flaw. When had Charlotte stopped feeling pride in her red dress? It startled her to realize that she hadn’t felt that way for a long time.
Noticing the time, Charlotte jolted into action. Seizing a breakfast protein bar, she nibbled on it before heading into the bathroom. The Level Five bathrooms were neat and tidy, with matching towels and soothing green walls. After arranging her hair and makeup, Charlotte noted her perfection. It didn’t matter to her though, all the Fives looked perfect.
After glancing around the bathroom, Charlotte opened her powder box. Sifting through the fine powder with her finger, she felt around the bottom until it touched upon a small metal object. Fully aware that the safety cameras weren’t installed in the bathroom, she still hesitated before pulling out the small outdated key. It was old fashioned because no one actually used keys these days. Heart pounding, she stared at the key for a moment. Escape and truth. The two went together. A small crackling sound broke through her anticipation.
A vague image of a man shot through her head. He wore the striped pajamas of Disorder patients. He held her arm in a firm grip and said, “If you don’t take chances, you might as well not be alive.” The image faded away and left Charlotte with a headache. She didn’t know why he appeared. She never met the man, nor had ever been to the Re-program Facilities. Charlotte looked up and noticed a crack in the ceiling, above the bathtub. That wasn’t supposed to be there. It wasn’t there before. “Your mother lied” voices whispered, “Take chances…” Is that ANOTHER crack in the bathroom? Charlotte spun around, noticed that the red dress was stained and ripped, streaked with blue.
“No, no, no, NO!” she cried out and gripped her hair. “What’s happening?” The key fell from her hand and dropped to the tile floor with a tink. Charlotte stared at the key wondering where it came from and what it opened. Falling to her knees she curled up and started to cry.
The crack in the wall became bigger. She covered her face, smearing her makeup. “This is not happening. All I wanted was the truth!” Charlotte’s eyes closed as she faded into peace.
“This will calm her down.” The medic in blue scrubs finished injecting Patient 2367.
“What do you think triggered this last episode?”
“Oh, I don’t know, it could have been anything. All I can say is that her mother lied to us. Her condition is even more severe than originally thought. She keeps overriding the implants. Tomorrow we’ll start the mind swipe process.”
The doctor nodded and the two walked away, not noticing the small tear running down Patient 2367’s face.