(continued from part 2)
As directed, she made her way to the workshop where she had just half-a-day’s prior been told she was to be selected for the Chosen. When she was escorted out, she had been amid a day’s work fashioning gloves at the direction of the foreman. As she entered the workroom now, the room was almost dark except a single lantern at the desk of the foreman who only looked up briefly from his reading as she entered and another lantern hung over her workstation.
The tabletops were raised on the back end so she could not see what awaited her behind her station, but she walked as she always did down the aisle between the benches to take her place. As she came upon her station, she found placed in the middle a single pair of what appeared to be finished gloves. She did not know what this meant, but before she considered how to proceed, she first took her seat.
Normally one would begin by pulling down the box of needles and a spool of thread, arranging their thimbles and other items as needed but she found that all of her items were left as they had been when she was summoned. All that was out of place or significant was the single pair of gloves sitting in the middle of the bench.
After assuring that all the other items were where they should be as the directions stated, she focused on the gloves. Lifting them lightly off the table she turned them over slowly examining them abstractly as she tried to sort out what it meant. She had been called upon before to do inspections of finished products. When one took over work for another member of the People, they would often need to follow through the process of the directed steps in the same manner they were expected to inspect another’s work. She first followed the seams around the outside.
She had to assume that these particular gloves must have been a pair she had sewn. It was the only thing that made sense. Something must be problematic. Something must have been done incorrectly. The exterior appeared as it should. She would indeed need to follow the stepwise pattern as though she were sewing the gloves from scratch but without doing the actual sewing – as they were directed when inspecting.
She turned the gloves inside-out one by one. Lifting the first glove she followed the seam all the way around as she would do when sewing. She watched the spacing of the stitchings, looked at the depth of the stitch. All seemed as it should be. Up one finger, down another. Around the tips and down the line of the thumb, back down to the other wrist. She could spot nothing that should cause a problem. She set the glove back down and picked up the other one. But before she began her scan she not only saw it, but remembered it as well.
There it was, plain as could be. She stared at it both in shock and amazement. She could not believe her eyes and in her mind, came again the word “why?” The question ‘why?’ as to so many thing. ‘Why had she done it?’ ‘Why is it a problem?’ ‘Why do they even care?’
What she recalled was just a minuscule memory from earlier in the morning, hours before her being ‘selected’. The process of cutting the patterns for the gloves was handled on a different occasion. Each task that members of the Community were given were short, simple and repetitive. The directions were thus kept similarly simple and succinct. The task of doing something as rudimentary as making gloves such as these was thus broken down into smaller functions. One group would cut the patterns, another would stitch them together, yet another would inspect them.
She, as any other member of the Community, had been moved through many such tasks at many such steps in the production of all the goods produced by the Community — produced on behalf of the People at the direction of the Council. Some days she had been directed to the task of cutting the patterns for gloves and for other clothing. On other days she was put to the task of the sewing. On still others she would help with the inspections. Seldom was the same group directed to do any step-wise processes in the making of any one item. The tasks were separated so everyone had something to do, everyone contributed to the public good.
This morning as with any other day when directed to sewing, she had been given a stack of the pre-cut patterns at the start of the day as was every other member of her work crew in the sewing workshop. She had proceeded to making the gloves as she always did. The only reason she even had the slightest recollection of this particular pair of gloves was because of the minute deviation that it had been from the whole, mundane process.
When discovering any type of flaw, whether you had just finished sewing it or whether you were on the post-sewing inspection teams, you were to place the flawed item in a special bin separate from the bins for the completed items. Flawed items would be inspected yet again by a mending team, and if they could be mended they would be based on another set of directions that guided them in that task.
On this pair of gloves she had seen a flaw, a very minute flaw. One of the pattern cutters had accidentally nipped a small cut into the corner of the fabric about the width of the tip of her little finger. Had she been on a mending team, this would have been deemed, by the Council guidelines, to be ‘mendable’ and 2-3 stitches would be put in the corner to facilitate fixing the flaw. But she was not on a mending team — she had not done as directed.
Seeing that it was such a small flaw, and knowing how such small flaws were mended, she hadn’t thought twice of adding the three stitches at the end of her stitch line. She had not seen the cut until she had already sewn all the way around the glove — she already had the needle and thread. It seemed natural to add the other three loops of the thread to bind up the error. She had not thought a lot of it. But, she ‘had’ thought of it. One was not supposed to think. One was supposed to follow the directions. To deviate from the directions of the Council was to deviate from the will of the People!
She was still so perplexed by it all. ‘Such a little thing,‘ was the thought that kept going over and over through her head. Yet at the same time, she could sense that any deviation was not such a little thing in the Community. At least such a little thing seemed not to be such a little thing based on all they had put her through.
She hadn’t digested it enough yet to be frightened, but she did sense that her hands were cold holding the gloves. She glanced up at the foreman but he was still busy reading. Foreman often read the following day’s directions to themselves at the end of a workday to familiarize themselves with the following day’s tasks. Even though she had been through the process of sewing the gloves many times before, even though she had heard the directions time and again when she didn’t really need to hear them more than once, she still could not think of what to do next. The combination of all she had been through that day and the flurry of thoughts trying to congeal something tangible into her fledgling of a consciously thinking mind could not sort out the next step.
She focused her attention on the gloves. ‘You must finish the gloves, how do you finish your task? What is the direction?‘ Then she remembered. Flawed items go into the flawed bin. ‘Is that it???‘ she thought to herself. They couldn’t possibly want her to remove the stitches. The stitches shouldn’t have been there in the first place. She had no direction to add them. If one saw a flaw, they were to put them in the flawed bin. That was the only direction she had.
She sat a minute longer and stared at the gloves running it over and over again in her mind. That was the only direction she had. She was to follow directions. The directions of the Council, for the good of the People. ‘But it can’t be that simple?‘ she thought. ‘All this so they can get me to put a pair of gloves in the other bin?‘
It so overwhelmed her capacity to reason it out that she finally gave in to it. ‘If that’s what they want, let them have their flawed glove!‘ she thought.
She collected up her things and put them all in their respective places as a worker was expected to do upon finishing their last item for the day then she grabbed the gloves, turned them right side out, rose from her station and walked to the bins at the front of the room. She placed the ‘good’ glove in the finished bin and the ‘flawed’ glove in the ‘flawed’ bin. She turned to the foreman but he had already risen from his seated position.
“Are you finished with your tasks as directed by Council?” was all that he asked. She simply nodded in response. “Is your work station in order?” he asked as he collected his own things off his desk, grabbed his own lantern and began walking toward the doorway.
“Yes,” she answered.
“Have you been given further direction as to how to proceed upon finishing your work?”
She thought back to the words of the head councilman at the completion of the Declaration. ‘When the work has been completed as directed, it is the will of the Council that you report to your dormitory for the night’s rest.‘ She again nodded her head.
“Then so be it,” said the foreman. “You will need a light to find your way,” he said pointing to the lantern on her desk. “I must return to the Council dormitory,” was all that he said after gesturing at the lamp and he stepped out the doorway into the dark street. As he stepped out, he instructed the orator who had been reading outside to follow him back to the Council sleep quarters for the evening.
Again, she was left alone. No escort. Just her directions. No guide. ‘And no supervision?’ she thought. ‘Was it yet another test?’
She stood at the doorway looking out on the now empty, completely dark street. It seemed so inconceivable to her that no one was watching yet she didn’t want to spend too much time looking around either. To show suspicion of being watched might be just what they were looking for.
She glanced back inside the workshop to notice the only light, the dim lamp still set above her work area. Being overwhelmed with just how dark everything was outside, she walked to get the lantern without really thinking. Her brain was running over the situation itself. She still assumed some imminent doom or consequence must waiting for her. Or at least will await her if she slips up in some way. Perhaps the strange escort was waiting somewhere around a dark corner – maybe that’s what he had meant when he said he might see her again?
As she reached the lantern on her work table she became aware how bright the light seemed compared to the darkness now engulfing the entire town. The circle of light put out by the small lamp barely lit an area a few feet around her with any reasonable amount of light. And the light seemed to block her own ability to see in the dark. Something in her decided instead to quench the light all together. She just left the lantern, it’s wick still glowing a dim amber-red and walked robotically toward the door.
Although it was quite dark, she had walked that path autonomously so many times before that she had no problem finding her way. The darkness, like the feeling of impending calamity, completely enveloped her. She walked on as her feet traced the path out the doorway, down the street and toward the dormitory. Her eyes stayed fixed in front of her but her perception was casting it’s attention to every corner of her vision.
She was so overwrought with the anticipation of something horrible awaiting her that her mind played tricks on her. She could seem to sense motion in every shadow and corner. Her eyes were still not fully adjusted to the light and she tried not to obey her suspicions or disobey her feigned obedience to this town and it’s People but she still occasionally turned her eyes only to find stillness and darkness.
She stiffened herself more to the task and all but closed her eyes. But this brought the sound of every crunch of her soft soled sandals. They seemed to her to be the crushing sounds of heavy stone upon stone. The town itself was so quiet that any sound she made, even her breathing, was overwhelming to her overly focused attentions.
The illusionary tricks of her hearing and vision seemed to intensify until that was all she could focus upon. She couldn’t help herself from occasionally turning her head now at the slightest sound or straining her focus on a perceived movement.
Finally she resolved to grasp ahold of her fears and pin her visions straight ahead. That was when she noticed the first thing — in her paranoia, she had walked well past the door to the dormitory. Not simply past the door but she was a good building-and-a-half past her directed destination.
She froze where she stood not wanting to move or make a single sound, not even to breath. ‘If something is to happen to me, it will surely happen now!’ she thought but she could hear nothing. Ahead she could see nothing but darkness from the buildings and the windows. Nothing in the entire town was moving, nothing made a sound. She stood frozen staring straight out ahead, but focused on all that was behind her, wondering what to do next, wondering if she would turn to find her doom, wondering if someone was watching, waiting….
Then she saw the second thing, something that shouldn’t have been there. It was beyond the street, beyond the buildings, beyond the boundaries of the village itself. She turned her head upward for a comparison with the stars in the night sky, but it was not a star. Her eyes were adjusting now well enough to just make out that it was below the line of of the hills that surrounded the small village. It was a small light part way up the hill itself.
She strained her eyes to make sure that it was not just another trick of her imagination, but it was definitely there. In her curiosity at this thing, this pin-prick of light up on the hills, she forgot all about the panic she was experiencing just moments before. Her feet moved involuntarily as she stooped and bent a little this way and that to try to make it out better through the trees.
It was a flickering yellow. ‘A campfire!‘ she thought, but it was too far up the hill to determine any more than that. There were no buildings outside of the village limits. The People never left the village limits. It was common knowledge that traders from other villages occasionally came to exchange goods but they came during the day. This was a fire, someone’s fire, after dark and outside of the village limits.
She thought briefly, unconscious of her still walking forward, that no one in her Community ever left the village to trade. The traders always came here and the same traders left. The People themselves never delt with the traders, that was a function of the Council. But other than the Chosen, no one, not even members of the Council was ever was gone from the Community.
‘Who were these traders?’ she wondered for a moment. If no one ever left her Community, the thought occurred to her that perhaps no one left the other Communities either. She pondered as to whether or not these traders might actually camp outside of town before heading wherever they went.
‘Then who were these traders??‘ she found herself wondering again with the sudden realization that the reason behind her curiosity entailed a desire to seek their assistance — to see if they could help her leave the Community and the unknown fate that she was certain awaited her.
This realization both frightened and exhilarated her. Frightened her in that she suddenly became aware that her attempts to get a better look at the light had brought her even closer to the edge of the village and obviously well outside what was expected of her by ‘the direction of the Council.’ It exhilarated her because she had never considered that her real desire was to run, and before she had realized it she was.
She ran as she had never run before. In actuality there was no reason to run in the Community but none of that mattered now. She simply ran — ran down the remaining street, ran into the line of trees, ran up the hill toward the light, toward some hope of leaving the terror behind. The running wasn’t now specific to getting away from the Community per se, but getting away from the horror she felt awaited her here amidst whatever other arrangements the Council still had planned for her this day. There was no stopping to think what might await her, she hadn’t stopped to wonder if this might be the very test she feared or could even be how they may have planned to reveal her betrayal and seek her ultimate demise.
She simply ran as though her life depended upon it, for in her mind at that moment, it did.
(to be continued in part 4)