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Carla took the brush in numb fingers and walked obediently behind Madam Trudeau, who was loosening hair clasps that restrained her heavy black hair. It fell down her back like a dead snake, uncoiling slowly. Carla started to brush it.
"Harder, girl. Are you so weak that you can't brush hair?"
She plied the brush harder until her arm became heavy and then Madam Trudeau said, "Enough. You are a clumsy girl, awkward and stupid. Must I teach you everything, even how to brush one's hair properly?" She yanked the brush from Carla's hand and now there were two spots of color on her cheeks and her eyes were flashing. "Get out. Go! Leave me! On Sat.u.r.day immediately following the funeral you will administer punishment to Lisa for scribbling in her notebook. Afterward report to me. And now get out of here!"
Carla s.n.a.t.c.hed up the schedule and backed across the room, terrified of the Teacher who seemed demoniacal suddenly. She b.u.mped into the other chair and nearly fell down. Madam Trudeau laughed shortly and cried, "Clumsy, awkward! You would be a Lady! You?"
Carla groped behind her for the doork.n.o.b and finally escaped into the hallway, where she leaned against the wall, trembling too hard to move on. Something crashed into the door behind her and she stifled a scream and ran. The brush. Madam had thrown the brush against the door.
Madam Westfall's ghost roamed all night, chasing shadows in and out of rooms, making the floors creak with her pa.s.sage, echoes of her voice drifting in and out of the dorm where Carla tossed restlessly. Twice she sat upright in fear, listening intently, not knowing why. Once Lisa cried out and she went to her and held her hand until the child quieted again. When dawn lighted the room Carla was awake and standing at the windows looking at the ring of mountains that encircled the city. Black shadows against the lesser black of the sky, they darkened, and suddenly caught fire from the sun striking their tips. The fire spread downward, went out, and became merely light on the leaves that were turning red and gold. Carla turned from the view, unable to explain the pain that filled her. She awakened the first two girls who were to be on duty with Madam Westfall and after their quiet departure, returned to the window. The sun was all the way up now, but its morning light was soft; there were no hard outlines anywhere. The trees were a blend of colors with no individual boundaries, and rocks and earth melted together and were one. Birds were singing with the desperation of summer's end and winter's approach.
"Carla?" Lisa touched her arm and looked up at her with wide, fearful eyes. "Is she going to whip me?"
"You will be punished after the funeral," Carla said, stiffly. "And I should report you for touching me, you know. "
The child drew back, looking down at the black border on Carla's skirt. "I forgot. " She hung her head. "I'm. . . I'm so scared. "
"It's time for breakfast, and after that we'll have a walk in the gardens. You'll feel better after you get out in the sunshine and fresh air. "
"Chrysanthemums, dahlias, marigolds. No, the small ones there, with the brown fringes. . . " Luella pointed out the various flowers to the other girls. Carla walked in the rear, hardly listening, trying to keep her eye on Lisa, who also trailed behind. She was worried about the child. Lisa had not slept well, had eaten no breakfast, and was so pale and wan that she didn't look strong enough to take the short garden walk with them.
Eminent personages came and went in the gloomy old house and huddled together to speak in lowered voices. Carla paid little attention to them. "I can change it after I have some authority," she said to a still inner self who listened and made no reply. "What can I do now? I'm property. I belong to the state, to Madam Trudeau and the school. What good if I disobey and am also whipped? Would that help any? I won't hit her hard. " the inner self said nothing, but she thought she could hear a mocking laugh come from the mummy that was being honored.
They had all those empty schools, miles and miles of school halls where no feet walked, desks where no students sat, books that no students scribbled up, and they put the children in them and they could see immediately who couldn't keep up, couldn't learn the new ways, and they got rid of them. Smart. Smart of them. They were smart and had the goods and the money and the hatred. My G.o.d, they hated. That's who wins, who hates most. And is more afraid. Every time.
Carla forced her arms not to move, her hands to remain locked before her, forced her head to stay bowed. The voice now went on and on and she couldn't get away from it.
. . . rained every day, cold freezing rain and Daddy didn't come back and Mama said, hide child, hide in the cave where it's warm, and don't move no matter what happens, don't move. Let me put it on your arm, don't take it off, never take it off show it to them if they find you show them make them look. . . .
Her relief came and Carla left. In the wide hallway that led to the back steps she was stopped by a rough hand on her arm. " Damme, here's a likely one. Come here, girl. Let's have a look at you. " She was spun around and the hand grasped her chin and lifted her head. "Did I say it! I could spot her all the way down the hall, now couldn't I? Can't hide what she's got with long skirts and that skinny hairdo, now can you? Didn't I spot her!" He laughed and turned Carla's head to the side and looked at her in profile, then laughed even louder.
She could see only that he was red-faced, with bushy eyebrows and thick grey hair. His hand holding her chin hurt, digging into her jaws at each side of her neck.
"Victor, turn her loose," the cool voice of a female said then. "She's been chosen already. An apprentice Teacher. "
He pushed Carla from him, still holding her chin, and he looked down at the skirts with the broad black band at the bottom. He gave her a shove that sent her into the opposite wall. She clutched at it for support.
"Whose pet is she?" he said darkly.
He turned and stamped away, not looking at Carla again. He wore the blue and white of a Doctor of Law. The female was a Lady in pink and black.
"Carla. Go upstairs. "Madam Trudeau moved from an open doorway and stood before Carla. She looked up and down the shaking girl. "Now you understand why I apprenticed you before this trip? For your own protection. "
They walked to the cemetery on Sat.u.r.day, a bright, warm day with golden light and the odor of burning leaves. Speeches were made, Madam Westfall's favorite music was played, and the services ended. Carla dreaded returning to the dormitory. She kept a close watch on Lisa, who seemed but a shadow of herself. Three times during the night she had held the girl until her nightmares subsided, and each time she had stroked her fine hair and soft cheeks and murmured to her quieting words, and she knew it was only her own cowardice that prevented her saying that it was she who would administer the whipping. The first shovelful of earth was thrown on top of the casket and everyone turned to leave the place, when suddenly the air was filled with raucous laughter, obscene chants, and wild music. It ended almost as quickly as it started, but the group was frozen until the mountain air became unnaturally still. Not even the birds were making a sound following the maniacal outburst.
Carla had been unable to stop the involuntary look that she cast about her at the woods that circled the cemetery. Who? Who would dare? Only a leaf or two stirred, floating downward on the gentle air effortlessly. Far in the distance a bird began to sing again, as if the evil spirits that had flown past were now gone.
"Madam Trudeau sent this up for you," Luella said nervously, handing Carla the rod. It was plastic, three feet long, thin, flexible. Carla looked at it and turned slowly to Lisa. The girl seemed to be swaying back and forth.
"I am to administer the whipping," Carla said. "You will undress now. "
Lisa stared at her in disbelief, and then suddenly she ran across the room and threw herself on Carla, hugging her hard, sobbing. "thank you, Carla. Thank you so much. I was so afraid, you don't know how afraid. Thank you. How did you make her let you do it? Will you be punished too? I love you so much, Carla. " She was incoherent in her relief and she flung off her gown and underwear and turned around.
Her skin was pale and soft, rounded b.u.t.tocks, dimpled just above the fullness. She had no waist yet, no b.r.e.a.s.t.s, no hair on her baby body. Like a baby she had whimpered in the night, clinging tightly to Carla, burying her head in the curve of Carla's b.r.e.a.s.t.s.
Carla raised the rod and brought it down, as easily as she could. Anything was too hard. There was a red welt. The girl bowed her head lower, but didn't whimper. She was holding the back of a chair and it jerked when the rod struck.
It would be worse if Madam Trudeau was doing it, Carla thought. She would try to hurt, would draw blood. Why? Why? the rod was hanging limply, and she knew it would be harder on both of them if she didn't finish it quickly. She raised it and again felt the rod bite into flesh, sending the vibration into her arm, through her body.
Again. The girl cried out, and a spot of blood appeared on her back. Carla stared at it in fascination and despair. She couldn't help it. Her arms wielded the rod too hard, and she couldn't help it. She closed her eyes a moment, raised the rod and struck again. Better. But the vibrations that had begun with the first blow increased, and she felt dizzy, and couldn't keep her eyes off the spot of blood that was trailing down the girl's back. Lisa was weeping now, her body was shaking. Carla felt a responsive tremor start within her.
Eight, nine. The excitement that stirred her was unnameable, unknowable, never before felt like this. Suddenly she thought of the Lady who had chosen her once, and scenes of the film she had been forced to watch flashed through her mind. . . . remake them in our image. She looked about in that moment frozen in time, and she saw the excitement on some of the faces, on others fear, disgust and revulsion. Her gaze stopped on Helga, who had her eyes closed, whose body was moving rhythmically. She raised the rod and brought it down as hard as she could, hitting the chair with a noise that brought everyone out of his own kind of trance. A sharp, cracking noise that was a finish.
"Ten!" she cried and threw the rod across the room.
Lisa turned and through br.i.m.m.i.n.g eyes, red, swollen, ugly with crying, said, "thank you, Carla. It wasn't so bad. "
Looking at her, Carla knew hatred. It burned through her, distorted the image of what she saw. Inside her body the excitement found no outlet, and it flushed her face, made her hands numb, and filled her with hatred. She turned and fled.
Before Madam Trudeau's door, she stopped a moment, took a deep breath, and knocked. After several moments the door opened and Madam Trudeau came out. Her eyes were glittering more than ever, and there were two spots of color on her pasty cheeks.
"It is done? Let me look at you. " Her fingers were cold and moist when she lifted Carla's chin. "Yes, I see. I see. I am busy now. Come back in half an hour. You will tell me all about it. Half an hour. " Carla never had seen a genuine smile on the Teacher's face before, and now when it came, it was more frightening than her frown was. Carla didn't move, but she felt as if every cell in her body had tried to pull back.
She bowed and turned to leave. Madam Trudeau followed her a step and said in a low vibrant voice, "You felt it, didn't you? You know now, don't you?"
"Madam Trudeau, are you coming back?" the door behind her opened, and one of the Doctors of Law appeared there.
"Yes, of course. " She turned and went back to the room.
Carla let herself into the small enclosed area between the second and third floors, then stopped. She could hear the voices of girls coming down the stairs, going on duty in the kitchen, or outside for evening exercises. She stopped to wait for them to pa.s.s, and she leaned against the wall tiredly. This s.p.a.ce was two and a half feet square perhaps. It was very dank and hot. From here she could hear every sound made by the girls on the stairs. Probably that was why the second door had been added, to m.u.f.fle the noise of those going up and down. The girls had stopped on the steps and were discussing the laughter and obscenities they had heard in the cemetery.
Carla knew that it was her duty to confront them, to order them to their duties, to impose proper silence on them in public places, but she closed her eyes and pressed her hand hard on the wood behind her for support and wished they would finish their childish prattle and go on. The wood behind her started to slide.
She jerked away. A sliding door? She felt it and ran her finger along the smooth paneling to the edge where there was now a six-inch opening as high as she could reach and down to the floor. She pushed the door again and it slid easily, going between the two walls. When the opening was wide enough she stepped through it. The cave! She knew it was the cave that Madam Westfall had talked about incessantly.
The s.p.a.ce was no more than two feet wide, and very dark. She felt the inside door and there was a k.n.o.b on it, low enough for children to reach. The door slid as smoothly from the inside as it had from the outside. She slid it almost closed and the voices were cut off, but she could hear other voices, from the room on the other side of the pa.s.sage. They were not clear. She felt her way farther, and almost fell over a box. She held her breath as she realized that she was hearing Madam Trudeau's voice: ". . . be there. Too many independent reports of the old fool's babbling about it for there not to be something to it. Your men are incompetent. "
"Trudeau, shut up. You scare the living h.e.l.l out of the kids, but you don't scare me. Just shut up and accept the report. We've been over every inch of the hills for miles, and there's no cave. It was over a hundred years ago. Maybe there was one that the kids played in, but it's gone now. Probably collapsed. "
"We have to be certain, absolutely certain. "
"What's so important about it anyway? Maybe if you would give us more to go on we could make more progress. "
"The reports state that when the militia came here, they found only Martha Westfall. They executed her on the spot without questioning her first. Fools! When they searched the house, they discovered that it was stripped. No jewels, no silver, diaries, papers. Nothing. Steve Westfall was dead. Dr. Westfall dead. Martha. No one has ever found the articles that were hidden, and when the child again appeared, she had true amnesia that never yielded to attempts to penetrate it. "
"So, a few records, diaries. What are they to you?" there was silence, then he laughed. "the money! He took all his money out of the bank, didn't he?"
"Don't be ridiculous. I want records, that's all. There's a complete ham radio, complete. Dr. Westfall was an electronics engineer as well as a teacher. No one could begin to guess how much equipment he hid before he was killed. "
Carla ran her hand over the box, felt behind it. More boxes.
"Yeah yeah. I read the reports, too. All the more reason to keep the search nearby. For a year before the end a close watch was kept on the house. They had to walk to wherever they hid the stuff. And I can just say again that there's no cave around here. It fell in. "
"I hope so," Madam Trudeau said.
Someone knocked on the door, and Madam Trudeau called, "Come in. "
"Yes, what is it? Speak up, girl. "
"It is my duty to report, Madam, that Carla did not administer the full punishment ordered by you. "
Carla's fists clenched hard. Helga.
"Explain," Madam Trudeau said sharply.
"She only struck Lisa nine times, Madam. The last time she hit the chair. "
"I see. Return to your room. "
The man laughed when the girl closed the door once more. "Carla is the golden one, Trudeau? the one who wears a single black band?"
"The one you manhandled earlier, yes. "
"Insubordination in the ranks, Trudeau? Tut, tut. And your reports all state that you never have any rebellion. Never. "
Very slowly Madam Trudeau said, "I have never had a student who didn't abandon any thoughts of rebellion under my guidance. Carla will be obedient. And one day she will be an excellent Teacher. I know the signs. "
Carla stood before the Teacher with her head bowed and her hands clasped together. Madam Trudeau walked around her without touching her, then sat down and said, "You will whip Lisa every day for a week, beginning tomorrow. "
Carla didn't reply.
"Don't stand mute before me, Carla. Signify your obedience immediately. "
"I. . . I can't, Madam. "
"Carla, any day that you do not whip Lisa, I will. And I will also whip you double her allotment. Do you understand?"
"Yes, Madam. "
"You will inform Lisa that she is to be whipped every day, by one or the other of us. Immediately. "
"Madam, please. . . "
"You speak out of turn, Carla!"
"I. . . Madam, please don't do this. Don't make me do this. She is too weak. . . . "
"She will beg you to do it, won't she, Carla? Beg you with tears flowing to be the one, not me. And you will feel the excitement and the hate and every day you will feel it grow strong. You will want to hurt her, want to see blood spot her bare back. And your hate will grow until you won't be able to look at her without being blinded by your own hatred. You see, I know, Carla. I know all of it. "
Carla stared at her in horror. "I won't do it. I won't. "
"I will. "
They were old and full of hatred for the shiny young faces, the bright hair, the straight backs and strong legs and arms. They said: let us remake them in our image and they did.
Carla repeated Madam Trudeau's words to the girls gathered in the two sleeping rooms on the third floor. Lisa swayed and was supported by Ruthie. Helga smiled.
That evening Ruthie tried to run away and was caught by two of the blue-clad Males. The girls were lined up and watched as Ruthie was stoned. They buried her without a service on the hill where she had been caught.
After dark, lying on the cot open-eyed, tense, Carla heard Lisa's whisper close to her ear. "I don't care if you hit me, Carla. It won't hurt like it does when she hits me. "
"Go to bed, Lisa. Go to sleep. "
"I can't sleep. I keep seeing Ruthie. I should have gone with her. I wanted to, but she wouldn't let me. She was afraid there would be Males on the hill watching. She said if she didn't get caught, then I should try to follow her at night. " the child's voice was flat, as if shock had dulled her sensibilities.
Carla kept seeing Ruthie too. Over and over she repeated to herself: I should have tried it. I'm cleverer than she was. I might have escaped. I should have been the one. She knew it was too late now. They would be watching too closely.
An eternity later she crept from her bed and dressed quietly. Soundlessly she gathered her own belongings, and then collected the notebooks of the other girls, and the pens, and she left the room. There were dim lights on throughout the house as she made her way silently down stairs and through corridors. She left a pen by one of the outside doors, and very cautiously made her way back to the tiny s.p.a.ce between the floors. She slid the door open and deposited everything else she carried inside the cave. She tried to get to the kitchen for food, but stopped when she saw one of the Officers of Law. She returned soundlessly to the attic rooms and tiptoed among the beds to Lisa's cot. She placed one hand over the girl's mouth and shook her awake with the other.
Lisa bolted upright, terrified, her body stiffened convulsively. With her mouth against the girl's ear Carla whispered, "Don't make a sound. Come on. "She half led, half carried the girl to the doorway, down the stairs, and into the cave and closed the door.
"You can't talk here, either," she whispered. "they can hear. " She spread out the extra garments she had collected and they lay down together, her arms tight about the girl's shoulders. "Try to sleep," she whispered. "I don't think they'll find us here. And after they leave, we'll creep out and live in the woods. We'll eat nuts and berries. . . . "
The first day they were jubilant at their success and they giggled and m.u.f.fled the noise with their skirts. They could hear all the orders being issued by Madam Trudeau: guards in all the halls, on the stairs, at the door to the dorm to keep other girls from trying to escape also. They could hear all the interrogations, of the girls, the guards who had not seen the escapees. They heard the mocking voice of the Doctor of Law deriding Madam Trudeau's boasts of absolute control.
The second day Carla tried to steal food for them, and, more important, water. There were blue-clad Males everywhere. She returned empty handed. During the night Lisa whimpered in her sleep and Carla had to stay awake to quiet the child, who was slightly feverish.
"You won't let her get me, will you?" she begged over and over.
The third day Lisa became too quiet. She didn't want Carla to move from her side at all. She held Carla's hand in her hot, dry hand and now and then tried to raise it to her face, but she was too weak now. Carla stroked her forehead.
When the child slept Carla wrote in the notebooks, in the dark, not knowing if she wrote over other words or on blank pages. She wrote her life story, and then made up other things to say. She wrote her name over and over, and wept because she had no last name. She wrote nonsense words and rhymed them with other nonsense words. She wrote of the savages who had laughed at the funeral and she hoped they wouldn't all die over the winter months. She thought that probably they would. She wrote of the golden light through green-black pine trees and of birds' songs and moss underfoot. She wrote of Lisa lying peacefully now at the far end of the cave amidst riches that neither of them could ever have comprehended. When she could no longer write, she drifted in and out of the golden light in the forest, listening to the birds' songs, hearing the raucous laughter that now sounded so beautiful.
O Happy Day!.
by Geoff Ryman.
Geoff Ryman is the author of the novels The Warrior Who Carried Life, The Unconquered Country, The Child Garden, Was, 253, l.u.s.t, Air, and The King's Last Song. His short fiction has appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Interzone, Tor.com, New Worlds, and has frequently been reprinted in Gardner Dozois's Year's Best Science Fiction series. Most of his short work can be found in the collections Unconquered Countries and the recent Paradise Tales and Other Stories. He is a winner of the World Fantasy Award, the John W. Campbell Memorial Award, the Arthur C. Clarke Award, the Philip K. d.i.c.k Award, the Tiptree Award, and the British Science Fiction Award. He is also the editor of the recent anthology When It Changed. Another story of his appears elsewhere in this volume.
What is the role of violence in society? Is there a place for it? Is there a way to make violence socially acceptable? Or should it be eliminated-at any price?
Our next dystopia gives violence a cold looking-over, and after the examination is complete, no one is left innocent. Like Golding's Lord of the Flies, where the wrong conditions turn harmless school boys into malevolent brutes, "O Happy Day" watches people we often stereotype as gentle innocents turn beastly. Women prove themselves as capable of mindless cruelty as men. h.o.m.os.e.xual men succ.u.mb to fisticuffs and in-fighting just as nastily as any straight men. No one is immune to the temptation of violence.