“The world has been, in many cultures, split into two different categories. The Chinese had their philosophies of yin and yang, or the dark and bright. Others have made it more palatable with separating into black and white, or the good and the bad. Sailors, explorers and American Civil War combatants have split it into North and South. Technicians and coders could split the world into zeroes and ones.
The rich and the poor. The young and the old. The heart and the mind. A punch or a kick. The left and the right, both directional and political. The male and the female, depending on who you talk to. Alive or dead.
The lists of twos could be potentially endless.
The vast majority of the world knows about the newest type of two.
Those that take and those that give.”
An excerpt from ‘A Giver or a Taker: Which Are You? An Introduction into the New World’ written by Jerome Berg.
His alarm went off and he turned it off. Just like every other morning. He rolled out of bed and immediately went to the bathroom. He washed his face and his dirty hands and checked to make sure his facial hair was still groomed. He took out a pair of scissors and cut a few stragglers away to make himself more presentable. He ran his hand across his short beard. It was coming in nice and thick.
He smiled at himself in the mirror and went back into his bedroom. He shrugged on a t-shirt and left his pajama bottoms on. He could already smell the coffee coming from up the stairs. He loved that his coffee machine had a timer, as long as he remembered to place fresh grounds into it, he would wake up to fresh coffee.
He climbed down the stairs of from his bedroom and went into his immaculately clean kitchen. He rarely actually cooked anything in her other than the occasional breakfast or dinner. His job left him pretty busy most of the time. He would spend all day in the office and sometimes even deep into the night. The only time he really had to himself was this time in the morning. He opened a cupboard and took out a clear mug and placed it by the coffee machine. It was still brewing and would not be ready for a few more moments.
He stretched and went over to a small area near his living room. In the doorway he had a pull-up bar, which he stood under. He did some light stretching and nimbly jumped up to do his daily routine. He first started by doing three sets of twenty pull-ups, which he then would drop to the ground and immediately do twenty crunches. He knew that it was better than nothing and made a mental note that he would take a run after work.
The coffee had finished as he was doing his morning workout and he went back to the see-through mug. He poured himself a couple of black French roast, which he smelled before taking a sip. He could feel it warm himself up. He took the mug with him back to his bedroom where he would change.
He stripped from his pajamas and threw them in a hamper. It was nearly ready for a load of laundry. The cleaner would probably empty it today when he wasn’t home. He would need to write her a check tomorrow for the month of cleaning that she did for him. He made a mental note to make sure that he took care of it before his nightly run.
He occasionally sipped his coffee as he dressed for work. He pulled on his dress socks and underwear as he thought about what tie to wear. The cleaner had already ironed his shirt and it was pressed and waiting for him in his closet. He slipped into and decided that he felt like wearing a nice green tie. It was nearly a neon green, but it popped and would good item to make him stand out from the crowd at the office. His boss would have to notice him then, there was no reason for him not to be noticed over Nelson.
“Nelson, I’ll have that desk…” he said to himself thinking about the only other person who would be in the running for the next promotion.
The two of them wanted it, but he knew that he wanted it more than Nelson.
The green tie would help, he thought to himself as he tied it around his neck.
He put on his jacket, even though it was a warmer day today. And finished his coffee. He ran into the bathroom and brushed his teeth and put some aftershave on, even though he hadn’t shaved. He went downstairs with the empty mug in hand and he rinsed it out. He already gave the cleaner too much work to do, it wouldn’t harm to help her a little. He placed it in his drying rack and then walked to the door.
He chose his dark brown leather shoes to wear, especially since they looked like they had recently been polished. He tied the laces and walked to his briefcase, which was waiting for him on a side table by the door.
When he lifted it, it was much heavier than he remembered it being the night before. He thought it strange and he placed it on the side table to open it. As he did he felt his arm cramp up and he couldn’t reach for it.
“You don’t need to open it.” He heard himself say to himself.
He suddenly smelled the city. Like he was standing over a grate that was above a subway. The heat was rising from it and it gave him a chill. He could hear cabs honking angrily at each other and the voices of a thousand people.
Then it was gone.
“Huh…” he said as he picked up his heavy briefcase and walked out the door, which lead into one of the nicer neighborhoods in the city. The street was filled on both sides with similar looking buildings. They were all the same height and size and general shape, the only difference appeared in the colors. The buildings were blue, brown, white and green.
He always walked to work. It was good exercise, especially when he had such a short session in the morning. It also helped him save money. Being a bachelor in the city was fine and dandy, but it was expensive. He did not see the need to spend more money on his own car or even taxis or subways. If he couldn’t reach it on foot, he tended not to go.
As he made his way down the street her prepared himself to head to the left, which was where his office was located. As he attempted to head downtown towards his office another cramp happened.
His body twisted itself and went in the opposite direction, which lead to the large city park.
“The park…” he could hear himself say.
He heard the taxis whirring by him and felt a jolt as someone hit him.
“Watch it buddy!” said an angry voice.
He could see the man that checked him walking away as a shadowy figure. The houses on his street shimmered and he could see that they were larger and closer to what he was used to seeing downtown. They were the skyscrapers and the bodegas and the sleazy pubs.
“Go to the park.” He said in an unfamiliar voice that was louder than he could almost stand.
He could taste his breath in his unbrushed mouth. It was stale and made him smack his lips, but when he tried he could not. The single-lane street before him shimmered like the buildings and he could see that it stretched out further than he was used to, but he turned and began to walk towards the park. His body ached as if he had just ran a half marathon, it was as if his own body was fighting him.
“I need to go to the park.” He said in his own voice.
The shimmering around him stopped suddenly, his stale breath evaporated from his mouth, and the smells of downtown disappeared.
He stopped in his tracks.
“What the hell was that?” he asked himself.
He needed to go to work. He turned on his heel and suddenly his body felt as if something pulled him. He felt as if he were a marionette and that the strings that attached to his hands and legs were being pulled away from him.
Downtown shimmered in front of him as he walked towards the city’s park. The taste of stale breath came back as did the smells of the city. He the remembered something that was not his memory, but he knew he remembered it.
It’s a test. To see how far I can go.
A test? He tried to say it aloud, but he could not let himself to do so. His mouth felt as if it were sewn shut. He wanted to reach up and claw off the stitches, but his arms were filled with lead, they were too heavy, even for him a man that exercised almost every day.
He felt an emotion that was not his sweep through him. It was exacerbation. He was annoyed with himself for not following his own orders.
How could he feel that? He wanted to go to work. He needed to go to work. Nelson would get the promotion if he didn’t.
The shimmering was getting clearer and even though he knew what was happening against his will, he knew that he was being willed to go to the park. The city felt as if it were becoming solid before him. He didn’t want to focus on that he wanted to focus on what was happening before him.
As he thought this his surroundings became clearer.
Maybe, I can fight this! He thought to himself, as he was still unable to open his mouth.
He tried with all his might to move his arms and legs and body back the opposite way, but when he tried he realized it was like trying to move a mountain there was no possible way for him to do so. He wondered what would happen if he tried to see the city again. He focused on that and everything came into rabid focus. It was dizzying.
Walk to the park.
The voice he heard was not his. He was seeing the city, but he knew something was wrong. Everything looked… taller. He tried to move his head around, but was unable. The head however moved itself and he could see that he was next to a coffee shop. He had passed the coffee shop almost every day, but he had never gone inside. He preferred his own brew at home, rather than the over priced coffee in the city.
He watched as his hand lifted a small paper cup to his lips and he could taste disgustingly sugary coffee slide down his throat. It was almost as if it weren’t even coffee anymore. He watched his arm move down and that’s when he saw it.
The arm before him was not his arm. It was easy for him to spot this. His skin was a rich dark brown and the arm he had just saw was a pale pink.
That’s not my arm, he thought to himself, then who is it?
He could see through the vivid surroundings of the city to where he was actually walking. He focused again and saw that he was already in the park.
If all is well, then I know what I can do. Everyone will know what I can do.
He heard that voice again. And this time he remembered something again. It was in his own house. He could see through his own eyes (he knew this time because he recognized his own body when he sat up in bed) he was moving, but he did not remember any of this. He remembered through memories that were not his, even though it was his own body.
He saw himself go downstairs and go into a closet that he rarely used. Inside were wires and mechanisms that he had never seen before. He had made something. He saw large plastic bricks and they looked like things he had seen in movies. They looked like plastic explosive. He did not want to remember this he wanted to go back to his body.
He shook the memory from mind and heard the voice again, I’m pretty sure that I did this correctly. The Internet has been wrong before…
He was seeing through his own eyes and he saw that he was standing in the middle of the park. There weren’t many people around, but it was still early in the day. He saw a couple of mothers walking around with strollers. He saw a few runners and bikers. A taxi beeped next to his ear, but he knew that was from the other person. An elderly couple sat on a bench feeding the already plump pigeons.
He watched as his body placed the heavy briefcase on the ground and opened it. He gasped as he saw the makeshift bomb inside. He tried to struggle, but it was no use. His body reached forward and pressed the bottom and his vision filled with bright light.
His name was Benjamin Terry.
Sheryll awoke from her bunk. The tone of the jail echoed around her. She yawned deeply and stretched, the metal bunk creaked underneath the shifting of her weight. She looked around the empty room. The walls were bare, out of want more than anything else. The light mildew stench was stronger in the back of her cell than it was in the front and when she got out of bed and moved over to the toilet the smell built.
She relieved herself and flushed as the tone that blared through the compound ended.
It would go off in five minutes time. She washed her hands in a small basin and then splashed some water on her face. She let the water dry normally as it was warm today. It helped cool her down.
No one shared a room with Sheryll, which she tried her best to keep it that way. That was because she was in solitary. She did not trust anyone else in the compound and she had her reasons for not being able to do that. She had been ‘shafted’ as she called it too many times for her to count. It was safer this way. She would stay out of the limelight and serve her life sentence until the day she died.
She didn’t mind that much. She was fed and watered and had a dry place to stay in. They kept her busy with tasks and jobs to do day in and out. She had a few acquaintances that would call themselves friends, but she never would consider them that much. There was just one thing that she would miss until her dying day.
Sweet little Kylie. She would be six now. She hadn’t seen her in two years. She was all scrapped knees and sass back then. Her face was chubby to the point where her cheeks were pinchable, but the rest of her was slender. She was a beansprout. She was tall for her age and the doctors were unsure if she would continue to grow. She didn’t get it from Sheryll or the father. Both of them were of average height. The last time she saw Kylie, she was wearing a pink shirt and overalls. Her hair was in a loose ponytail.
The tone sounded snapping Sheryll out of her memories.
She moved to the cell door, which opened to let her out. Unlike other jails they allowed the solitary out a few times a day. They just couldn’t participate in leisurely activities like playing basketball on the court outside or using the gym. Sheryll did miss using the library, but from her acquaintances she was able to smuggle a few books back to her cell.
It was fine with her. The less confrontation with people the better. She wanted to stay safe and sound and as far as she could tell solitary was the next best thing to living on a deserted island.
She stumbled her way out of her cell and fell in line with the scattered group of women who were in other cells. There weren’t many and the few were similar to her. They didn’t want to be with other people or they found safety here.
The made their way towards the guard who was waving them through an unlocked gate. The jail had a pretty even spread of male to female guards. Sheryll found out that they were the ones to watch out for, but not because of them being handsy (for the men and sometimes women) or being aggressive. She kept her head low and did as they asked.
The column of inmates made their way to the cafeteria. They could hear the mumbles and footfalls of the other women through the echoing halls. Everyone was on their way to breakfast, but before that it was chapel.
Chapel was not what the world knew as chapel. It was a time once a day where the warden came and spoke to the inmates. Warden Avery was a stern woman who thought much too highly of herself. She thought that everything that she said was the golden rule and everything that she touched was suddenly blessed. As far as Sheryll could tell, Warden Avery wasn’t in the slightest bit religious, but she sure acted like a religious fanatic. Many inmates actually said that she practiced in Averyism. It wasn’t a very funny joke, but there weren’t many funny jokes here and that was one of the better ones.
Sheryll watched women in front of her trying their best to tame their tangled heads of hair or yawn sleepily as they made their way further into the compound. Sheryll combed her close-cut hair with her hand. She liked it short, she thought it suited her. She felt that she had the head for a close-cut. One of her ‘friends’ told her it was because the only people who could, ‘rock a short haircut like that were people who had large heads.’ Sheryll didn’t think her head was large, but she laughed and agreed just to keep the peace and to keep her head down.
Finally, from a side corridor another column of women met up with those from solitary. Most of the other column tried their best to stay away from the solitaries. There was a new rumor that the ones who were in solitary were all involved in a sex ring in the compound. Because of this they all had they syphilis and were all losing their minds. As far as Sheryll knew this was a bold-faced lie, at least on her part (she wasn’t sure about the other women).
With two rows of women they all walked towards the cafeteria. Smells of boxed eggs and sausage patties wafted through the hall. A couple of women behind Sheryll laughed at something. The guards didn’t mind talking while they were being carted around as long as they weren’t being too disruptive. She couldn’t make out what they were saying at all, but she didn’t care anyways.
They made their way in and slowly made a line that circled around the room. This line was so everyone could have a good clean look at Warden Avery, plus it was easier to just turn to their left after Chapel to line up for grub.
Warden Avery was already standing in the middle of the room holding a small thermos. She always wore dark blue or black pant suits. They fit her slender body well. Her hair was about shoulder length and a dull brown. She wore large glasses that almost would have looked comical on her round childlike face, but her eyes were the part that stood out. They were dark brown, nearly black. When she looked at someone she did not blink and she did not waver. People had tried on many occasions to get a reaction from her, but all had failed. She had the looked of someone who belonged in jail, which was probably the reason why she was in charge of one.
She waited until everyone had made their way in and the guards for each section had finished their role call. Each would call out another woman’s name. Each person would respond in some fashion, usually with a ‘Here!’ or ‘Present!’ or even just a grunt. When everyone was accounted for Warden Avery cleared her throat and did her obligatory slow walk around the room, looking at each individual.
When she finished she returned to the middle and held her thermos to her lips and took a sip at whatever liquid was inside.
“Hello, ladies.” Said Warden Avery in a steely voice.
“Good morning, ma’am.” Everyone, including the guards said in unison.
She nodded to herself as if this pleased her, “I’m glad to see everyone awake and ready to take on another day. Before we begin I just have a few things that I would like to relay to all of you. Something that came to me while I drove home the other day.”
She stopped and looked around the room. Only looking at people’s eyes and nothing else.
“I was following a truck. In this truck there were large metal barrels. I wondered to myself, ‘What could be in those?’ I wanted to know, but being a single lane road, I was unable to see. I wondered if it was maybe a chemical of some sort going to a hospital or lab. Maybe some beer going to a bar. I thought of old bottles of juice that I had as a child, the ones shaped like barrels. I remembered that they always had a film of syrup on the bottom that needed a quick shake. Then I thought to myself.”
She paused again and looked at other people in the eye.
“The world is much like a barrel. It holds all of us. And in this barrel, it is a lot like the juices of my childhood. There are layers, but I think it could be broken down to three. The top layer is the best of the best. That is the cardinals and pope. The Princess Diana’s. The Dali Lama’s. The saints of our time. This is the top layer of the world and also the most precious and limited of what is in the barrel. These are not you.”
She held her thermos in two hands and continued to look around the crowd.
“Then comes the largest portion of the barrel. This is the general population. These are the house moms. The teachers. The lawyers. The prison guards. The wardens. The people who spend their lives doing what they think is best and taking their time to try and make the world a better place. The people who strive to stay away from the bottom of the barrel and try their best to get to the top. These are the majority of the barrel. The everyday person. These, like the top of the barrel, are not you.”
She took a quick sip from her thermos and placed it on a table next to her.
“Then there is the bottom of the barrel. The disgusting, refuse that has settled. This is the contents of the barrel that is no longer trying to reach the top of the barrel. These are the terrorist. The rapist. The murderers.”
Sheryll felt Warden Avery’s gaze move on her.
“The criminals. If I were take out the top portion of the barrel and the middle portion, all of you, would be left at the bottom. You all would be the filthy, build-up that I could drag my finger across the bottom and watch as you all would cling to my finger. I could wash my finger of you and it still wouldn’t feel clean. The only thing I would want to do at that point is to take my finger to a knife and remove it from my body. The body of a person trying their hardest to reach the top of that barrel. And if I left that scum…”
She raised her voice loudly and reached for her thermos again.
“…On my person, I know you would all try to drag me down to the depths of that barrel with you.”
She took a sip of her thermos and grimaced at it.
“My coffee has settled.”
She walked to the nearest garbage and tossed out her thermos and walked out of the room.
And just like that breakfast began to be served.