Sunday Story – Sweet Sixteen

Everything sucked.

Annie had just had her braces removed.  She still wore glasses rather than contacts because she thought they were cute.  Looking at her sixteen-and-three-week-old self in the mirror, she decided that she looked dorky but moderately attractive.

But what was the point?

She’d never kissed a boy, never been on a date, never even visited the mall.  She hadn’t physically attended school since Second Grade.  Never been to a dance or a cinema, never seen a live concert.  Never been bowling.

Life sucked and it would continue to suck until her twenty-fifth birthday, which seemed an impossibly long way off.  By then, a quarter of her life would have been stolen away.  The best quarter.  The most important part.

She pretended to blame her mother and gave her hell but knew it was nothing to do with her.  What was her mum going to do, bring up her daughter’s complaints the next time she ran into the Chief Health Officer?  Her mother marketed online advertising space; she had no magic wand that could stave off quarantine rules.  Even if she could, she probably wouldn’t.

The lockdowns were too damn successful, that was the problem.  When the initial pandemic faded, RSV infections spiked like never before, even in summer.  The world suddenly learned what RSV was and became terrified of it even though it had been around forever.  Then when RSV waned and restrictions eased, it was something else.

Since the permanent change in policy, death rates among the elderly had plummeted.  Life expectancy was in the nineties and rising.  It seemed that the young had been to blame all along by incubating and spreading infections that knocked their seniors off the perch.  The solution was obvious: keep the young home and all the nasties go away.  Many viruses had virtually disappeared off the face of the Earth, only being detected every now and then in India or Africa.

Being under house arrest was particularly hard on older kids like Annie who’d once tasted freedom.  Younger kids didn’t care.  They didn’t want to leave the house anyway.  When they came of age, some of them probably wouldn’t.

Annie’s mother constantly reminded her how lucky she was having a large house, a yard in which to get some sun and gaze enviously at passing birds; exercise equipment, fast Wi-Fi and the latest devices.  Some kids in apartments didn’t get to go outside at all.  And some lacked an internet connection fast enough to keep up with their Zoom classes.

Whatever.  Anyway, she still had to undergo the Generational Equity Program like everyone else.  On the third of every month, a woman in a spacesuit would come by and collect a pint of her blood and half a pint from her younger brother in order to redistribute it to an elderly person who needed it more.  This had stretched longevity even further and Annie was lectured every month that she’d benefit from it herself one day so there was no justification for complaining about it.  Screw that, she thought.  She’d rather live hard and die young.

Her mother told her, we live in a democracy.  People voted for this and we have to accept the will of the majority.  The elderly were a big chunk of the voting population and middle-aged people also loved the new normal because crime had been virtually eliminated.  So deal with it, Annie’s mother said.

Annie had other ideas.

With no life and dim prospects of having fun for many years, she mulled causing a fuss online.  No, that was futile.  She’d be insta-blocked by an algo before anyone even saw it. 

What she needed to do was to start a revolt.

She spent hours lying on her bed, strategizing.  She didn’t have a lot of life experience to go on – none actually, unless you counted First Grade scraps in the playground and the time in the park when a three-foot Annie had gotten into a fight with a territorial goose.  She wished she had clearer memories of those precious times outside that had ended nine years ago.

She read a lot, though.  She poured over accounts of historic revolutions but soon decided that without adult support, overthrowing the government was probably not viable.

What, then?

She read about Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr.; their non-violent campaigns of peaceful resistance.  Annie would have preferred violence because she really wanted to hurt someone for ruining her life but hey, if it worked, it worked.

Annie engaged her VPN to check restricted pages on the two activists and found they’d both had a dirty side.  Good, she thought.  If they’d been too angelic, she’d have given up on them.

Gandhi’s March to the Sea was the thing, she decided.  Something like that to prove that adults were wrong, something to rub it in their faces and make it obvious.  They would not go to the sea to illegally make salt, but instead . . . hmm . . .

To see how the story ends and for 14 more, get Tales From Captivity:

Also available on many other platforms.

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