Stepped Out of the Line

Here’s another piece for the 52 week writing challenge I’ve been working on. This prompt was “a romance that ends in tragedy.” I was (unfortunately) inspired by current events and other pieces of fiction that all too well mirror our reality.

Summer break was always my favorite. I’d get to come home from college and spend my days working part-time and nights with my girl. She loved horror movies, so every Friday was our Fright Night. From Paranormal Activity to classics like The Shining.

I’d fill a bucket with buttered popcorn (extra salt for her), and a box of malted milk balls for me. Cuddled down on the couch in our fuzzy blanket, the lights all off and nothing but the glow of the screen, it was heaven.

More often than not I’d end up asleep within half an hour and jolted awake by her jumping or gasping or straight up screaming. She’d grab my hand under the blanket and I’d kiss the top of her head, assuring her she was safe from the creepy children.

We’d fall asleep together on that couch, letting the TV glow behind our eyelids. The warmth of her skin touching mine felt safe and like home. Nothing could be better.

Then, our lives turned into a horror movie, and suddenly, they weren’t so fun anymore. It started small at first. The news story about kids being denied the right to use a bathroom because of their gender (or rather, because of their chosen gender that went against everything teachers and parents knew). Then there was the reversal of equal marriage rights.

After I graduated from college, I came back home to live with my girlfriend. We laid on the couch and watched the evening news. Safe, under our blanket, but no popcorn and malted milk balls. Only tissues and a cell phone at hand. She’d squeeze my hand under the blanket and I’d kiss the top of her head to let her know we were still there, together.

It happened fast and slow at the same time when they came for us. They burst into our living room while we had the TV going, screaming inaudible things behind thick, plastic masks and big shiny guns. My girlfriend trembled in my arms as they shouted at us to separate. I held on tighter.

My seemingly innocent action, performed out of terror, antagonized them, and they grabbed my girlfriend by her hair, dragging her down off the couch and across the floor. She screamed and I screamed, but the butt of a gun came down on my head and then all was black.

I woke up on the cold, hard wet floor of a jail cell, with only a single flickering light over the toilet in the corner. Silence all around me as I licked my parched lips. My girlfriend nowhere in sight. Where had they taken her? Who had taken her? But I knew who they were already.

The media called them extremists. Mostly men, but some women too, who hunted for “abominations” as they called us, dragged us out of our homes onto our front lawns and beat and torture us brutally while neighbors watched behind safe curtains.

One day, those extremists were not only wearing the faces of our bosses, friends and family, but of those sworn to protect and serve. The extremists began wearing the faces of government officials, community leaders and influential citizens. All to keep us in line. To keep us safe. To save us from ourselves.

Day in and day out, for God knows how long, I spent in this jail cell, never seeing sunlight or another face. A face behind a mask reached a gloved hand through an opening in the cell door to put a glass of water and crust of bread daily on my floor. I grew gaunt and weak, but still longed for my girlfriend, so I never stopped asking where they’d taken her. If she was still alive.

Eventually, someone opened the cell door and grabbed my arm. I barely had energy, but I resisted as much as I could. It seemed to annoy them enough to get a growled, “You wanted to see her, didn’t you?”

I stopped. They were taking me to my girlfriend. She still lived.

A few feet down the hall, a left through another door and three doors between that, we stopped and I was thrown into a bright, white room filled with light. I cringed at the rays from the light bulbs. I hadn’t seen light in so long.

It was empty at first, but soon, another door from the other side opened, and in stepped Stephanie. She looked clean, put together and unharmed. Her face was somber though.

I asked her how she was. Where she’d been this whole time. How she managed to escape the torture. What deal did she make. When she didn’t answer right away, I reached my hands toward hers and she jerked away. Then she said the three words that shattered my world. “Just give up.”

Tears threatened to spill over my eyes, but I held back. I didn’t understand. Give up what? Give up why? Give up how?

She finally brought her gaze to mine. “Let me go. Let us go. It’s the only way to be safe.”

But I love you, was all I could think, and I could see her reading my mind.

She shook her head slightly, warning me not to say it out loud. “I don’t love you like that, Mariah. I never did. I was wrong. We were wrong. Now it’s time to make things right.”

Now the tears did spill. They’d scared her so bad she lost all her fight. All her love. They terrified her into forgetting nights spent on the couch screaming at scary movies, munching on popcorn and hands squeezing under a blanket.

I shook my head at her now. “No, no you don’t mean that.”

The guards shifted in their corners. She glared at me. “Step in line, Mariah.”

I set my face to stone and breathed in deep. “Never.”

At this, the guards walked past her and grabbed me by both arms. She didn’t look up once, so I didn’t bother looking back.

They took her love. They took my love. They’d now take the rest of me, to mold and change me into an upstanding citizen. They’d try to put me back in line. I never could walk straight though.

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