The clock on the computer glowed 3:33. Alexis lay on her back, eyes wide open and thought about the book and the words it contained. She wondered about people being upset about a microchip. Society needed it. It made doors open when you walked through, worked as an ID when scanned and even added to and subtracted your value automatically as you bought and sold or were paid. So why did people in the book say they weren’t told about a microchip in a flu shot? Why would it matter? She wished she could ask her mother; she must have known what was going on–she was alive then. What would she think about this book? Alexis sighed. She just couldn’t ask her. She would get too suspicious and start asking Lexy a lot of questions she didn’t want to answer. She’d have to lie and say she didn’t know what made her ask about a time before a microchip. Instead, she said nothing. She leaned over the side of the bed and found her pencil and notebook under the bed and began to write. It somehow made her feel better to write out her thoughts and feelings. It helped with her confusion. She thought it would be a good thing for everyone to do, really, but there was no time, or reason, most people felt.
Alexis wrote about Isabella. I shared the book with Isa. I would have died trying to keep it from her. I wish Wynn were around. I can’t talk to Dan. He hates wasting time and I know he’d tell Mom and Dad, because he’d think it was helping me by ensuring I don’t spend my time on such things–I’m really curious about the people in the book. It said they escaped. I wonder what that means. Where did they go? Are they still there? I’d love to go there. I feel a strange need to be with them. VR is the only way I’ve ever seen places that are different than here. The trip always ends and I take off the headphones and I’m back in my world. Could life be better than this? Am I the only one who asks these kinds of questions? All people want to do is work. Well, not me. Maybe I will go and try to talk to Dan, at least about my feelings.
Alexis was so into her writing she didn’t hear the tapping on the door.
“Honey, are you awake?” her father whispered, opening her bedroom door a crack. Alexis gasped.
“No Dad!” she called, shoving the book under the covers. “I just turned on the light for a second.” Her dad peeked in the room.
“I saw your light on. I wanted to check on you. Go to sleep.”
“Okay, Dad.” The door clicked shut. Another close one! thought Alexis, now totally wide awake with the adrenaline rush of the scare. She clicked off her light and returned her notebook to its hiding place stuffed way down between some blankets in a box in her closet. Flopping back into bed, her mind wandered to Wynn.
His warm, loving eyes and thick, shaggy beard lit up the movie in her mind. She had met him one day when she was 10. Her parents had told her to wait in the car during one of their classified meetings. “You can get out of the car, but don’t get out of its sight,” her dad had instructed her. Bored of waiting for a particularly long meeting to end, Alexis had gotten out of the car to take a little walk. Her curiosity led her to a colorful yellow thing on what her parents had called a tree. She had not seen anything like it in the city where she lived, but out here in the country, there were lots of them. She successively wandered around to every different color she saw, walking farther and farther from the car in search of the next splash of color. Reaching out to pick a curious red flower, Alexis detected some movement in the bushes. She looked behind her and saw she had walked far from the car. As she turned back around, she met his wide, clear blue eyes. He walked out from behind the bush and she saw his huge stature and long, white beard. She must have been staring. “Hello,” he said gently. “Don’t be afraid,” he told her, needlessly.
She was not scared of this strange-looking man with unusual hair streaming down his back and hanging from his chin. His warm, wrinkle-lined eyes gleamed with magnetic delight, drawing her to him. “Hello,” she’d said. “Who are you?”
“I’m Wynn Elias,” he’s said. “Nice hibiscus.” He pointed to the flower in her hand.
“This?” She held up the flower. “A hi–what?”
“Hi-bis-kiss. It’s very high in nutrients. Did you know that one hibiscus gives enough vitamin C for a week? Tastes good too.” He popped a big red hibiscus flower and then an orange nasturtium into his mouth and started chewing. Alexis stared at him. He swallowed the flowers.
“You ate that?” Alexis couldn’t believe her eyes. This man was very interesting.
“You can eat all of these flowers. That’s why I planted them,” he explained.
“You made these?” she asked in disbelief.
“Well, I planted them. A force higher than myself actually makes them grow,” he said. “Here, try one,” he offered, handing her a small orange flower.
“I don’t know. I eat pellets. You don’t have to plant them. Just swallow them.” She reached into her pocket and pulled out a small plastic bottle filled with multi-colored pellets. “Here,” she held it out to Wynn. He regarded her with a wistful expression.
“Okay, I’ll try yours if you try mine,” he agreed, giving her a nasturtium and taking the pill. “This is a nasturtium,” he told her. She hesitated, then nibbled on the flower.
“Hmm, strange. I might like it.” Alexis decided. He nodded. For the next half hour, Wynn showed her around the gardens, letting her sample hibiscus, gotu kola, watercress, basil and other herbs that she couldn’t remember the names of.
“You’re different than most people living in the city,” he had said. “Stay that way, Alexis. Please don’t tell anybody you met me here.”
“I won’t,” she’d said when a loud yelling in the distance startled them.
“A–lexxxx–isssss!!!” her father called.
“I’ve gotta go, that’s my Dad! Don’t worry, I won’t tell anybody about you. Bye!” She ran off toward her parents. “Over here, Dad!” she called, waving her hand at her father. “Here I am.” She remembered the relieved looks on her parents’ faces when they’d seen her. Relief exploded into anger.
“I told you to stay near the car, Alexis!” her father yelled at her. “Where were you? What were you possibly doing?!”
“Nothing, Dad. I just got bored sitting in the car and went for a walk, that’s all,” she answered, trying to sound convincing.
“Alexis–we were worried about you! Don’t wander off like that anymore. Next time stay in the car and use the computer while you wait for us,” Cynthia told her. “Now come on, let’s go!” Her mom’s take-charge attitude silenced her father. On the ride home, Lexy was glad her parents’ minds were elsewhere. She shut her eyes and tuned out their conversation as she pondered the man she’d just met. She was intrigued and instinctively understood the need for secrecy. From then on, she looked forward to those long, boring rides to the country. Had her parents not been so involved in their own affairs, they may have thought it strange the way their daughter seemed to light up when they mentioned a trip to Central Headquarters and how she stopped complaining about the long trip.
While her parents went into their meeting, she would sneak over to Wynn’s underground house. She knew not to stay for more than an hour. She remembered the day Wynn gave her a thin, round stick with a sharp gray point at one end. She’d looked at it wondering what it was and then watched with fascination as Wynn held it in his hand and moved it over paper, making symbols called letters. “This is the written word, Alexis. And I’m writing with a pencil. Writing and reading used to be required learning in school and now, people don’t even know what it is. It’s become obsolete and outlawed, replaced by high tech devices that communicate for you.”
Wide-eyed at this new discovery, Alexis determined to learn how to write. She soon found herself creating letters. The fact that she had to keep it a secret made it even more fun for her.
“Writing helps you discover who you are,” Wynn had explained to her when she asked him why people should write. Whenever she found time to be alone, she found joy in pushing the pencil along and watching the lines. She remembered Wynn telling her that by writing, she was keeping an ancient ritual alive. Whenever she felt confused or upset, she wrote, and when she was finished, she somehow felt better–clear and less muddled. Why did it need to be a secret? she wondered. What’s so bad about it? she questioned. She couldn’t understand the harm. Wynn had told her stories about a time when everybody had to write as a part of life. Today, it would be considered a waste of time–the slow, old way. Authorities cared so much about peoples’ time that they outlawed handwriting and writing instruments and required citizens to communicate using the more efficient methods of voice recognition programs and video via the World Wide Web. Wynn called it the spider web. “They’ll never catch me in their web,” Wynn had declared to her.
Alexis figured it had been about eight years since she’d seen Wynn Elias. I was 12 years old when Dad decided not to take me with them anymore. There was nothing I could say. A lot of things changed during that year, remembered Alexis. My parents began arguing all the time and my father was gone most of the time. We hardly ever talked like a family anymore. What happens to communication? We grow up and forget how to relate to each other.
“The world’s changing,” Wynn had said to Alexis the last time she saw him. He’d given her a blank book he called a journal. It was almost as if he’d known they wouldn’t be seeing each other anymore. He’d hugged her and kissed her head and told her to “Keep the faith. ‘Stay together, go light and know the flowers,'” he’d said, quoting one of his favorite sayings he said was from something he called a book named Turtle Island. “God bless you, Lexy!” She wasn’t sure what he had meant, but she often remembered those words when she felt sad and alone, which was usually when she opened her journal to write. By now she had added her own pages because she had long run out of room. She used whatever she could find to write on. Old pieces of thin cardboard and labels peeled from pellet bottles. It was when she was adding more pages to the journal that she ripped off the torn paper from the back cover.
She was astonished when an envelope slipped out. What’s this? She opened the envelope carefully. Inside were pages of writing. These must’ve been written by Wynn’s friend, Lexy thought to herself as she sat down to read the pages. It was that writing she was re-reading when Isabella came over. That same writing was keeping her awake now. She felt she had to see Wynn. She had to know the answers to her questions, even though he told her not to come. Had he meant for her to find the pages?
She looked at the computer clock for the tenth time that night: 6:00 a.m. Somehow, she didn’t feel tired, even after not sleeping all night. Overwhelmed by the letter and filled with questions, Lexy reluctantly climbed out of her bed and put on her school uniform–a white shirt and black pants. A loud ringing made her jump. It was her dad’s alarm, announcing the beginning of a new day.