The Line

by T.S. Charles

An ear-piercing BUZZ sounded, alerting Jayson that it was time to get up. As he did every morning, Jayson rose, walked naked over to the shower area, and rinsed off. Once sufficiently clean, Jayson allowed his body to air-dry as he Q-tipped his ears and foreskin. Then after using the bathroom, he quickly brushed his teeth with a concoction of water and baking soda. Afterward, Jayson rinsed his mouth with lukewarm water, wiped his mouth, and walked over to the large steel door and waited for it to slide open. From start to finish, Jayson was fully prepped for his day within ten minutes.

Jayson glanced back to his eight-by-eight room as he waited for the bell to ring which always preceded the door’s opening. He had lived most of his life in that very room, and it had everything he needed.

The dimly lit room had a stainless steel toilet, a matching sink, and medicine cabinet in which his toothbrush, Q-tips, and baking soda were kept. The shower, located directly next to the toilet, was temperature controlled and went on every morning at 6:00am for exactly five minutes. Off in the far corner, Jayson’s heavy-duty foam mattress laid flat on the floor and was as bare as his nude body.

Precisely on time, as it was every morning, the bell rang and the door began to screech open. Jayson knew the routine like the back of Jacob’s head. He would have to wait for a subsequent ring before walking out into the hallway and assuming his position in line, which happened to be directly behind Jacob.

Over the years, Jayson and Jacob had formed a special bond. Jacob’s room was located directly to the left of Jayson’s and it was always comforting to know that a friendly face was waiting on the other side of the thick stainless steel door. They would eat together during meal times, were always paired next to each other for the machine-operated deep muscle massages, and enjoyed each other’s company during yoga and fitness training.

In addition to their identical upbringings, Jayson and Jacob were almost mirror images of each other. They were both tall in stature, were exceptionally fit, had similar facial features, and like Jayson and most other people they encountered, Jacob had been born hairless. Jayson often viewed having hair as an unfortunate condition or ailment. The way in which the hair never seemed to stop growing and how long people said it took to dry after showers, seemed particularly burdensome to Jayson.

Like he did every morning, Jayson walked out of his room and positioned himself right behind his old friend Jacob. He stared at Jacob’s bald head and the plethora of beauty-marks that blanketed the back of it. Gazing at the dark-brown dot-sized moles, Jayson often found himself mentally connecting the dots to form various different yoga poses, his favorite being the Downward Facing Dog Pose. He had always enjoyed that particular pose, so staring at it left him feeling both tranquil and relaxed.

Another bell rang and the line began to move. Conversations began to erupt as the men and women made their way down the hall. Jayson and Jacob were no different.

Eyes locked forward, Jacob asked, “Jayson, do you think today will be your day?”

“Anything’s possible. I heard Loraine and Isaac moved on the other day. From what I hear they were both pretty excited.” Jayson responded, eyes now fixed on Jacob’s Corpse Pose.

“I know it’d never happen, but it’d be nice if we moved on together. Now, don’t get me wrong, I do like it here, but this is all I know. When I’m fortunate enough to move on, though, it’s going to be an adjustment that would prove easier if you were around.”

Jacob’s words struck a chord with Jayson. He hadn’t thought about the move in a long time and wasn’t sure if he was even ready for the next level. Like Jacob, this was all he knew.

Ever since he could remember, this was his lifestyle and he had grown dependent on it. What if the next level didn’t include the auditory and visual cues he was accustomed to. The thought of functioning without them was too much for him to bear. In his mind, he needed that structure and would feel lost without it. But like all the ones before him, he knew when the moment presented itself, he would have no choice in the matter. He would have to move on as the rest had done.

“I feel as you do. We can only hope and see if it turns out that way, but I wouldn’t count on it.” Jayson responded with a note of disappointment.

“Yeah, I know. I don’t think there’s ever been a time when two together in the line were chosen.” Jacob sighed, “I guess it was just wishful thinking.”

The line continued down the corridor and, as they drew closer, Jayson’s eyes moved away from Jacob’s head and locked onto a lone black screen that stood above two stainless steel doors. When a person made it to the end of the hall they would stand before the screen. A red arrow would then flash on the screen pointing to either door on the right or the left.

There was no mystery regarding what was beyond the door to the right. Every day since his earliest childhood memories, Jayson passed through that very door, once at dawn and once in the evening. In the morning he’d pass through and go directly to the dining area where he’d eat his perfectly balanced meal. The slop-like concoction was a blend of proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and was loaded with all the essential vitamins necessary to maintain a healthy lifestyle. For Jayson and all the others, eating was nothing more than a way to refuel the body, prepping oneself for the strenuous workouts that would ensue.

After slurping down the nutritious meal, Jayson would proceed with the others to the fitness room. Once inside, they would engage in deep meditation, then a long period of stretching before easing into their exercise regimen. All forms were available, including cardio, strength training, and yoga. Everyone, including the real young, would spend the greater part of their day working out, only stopping for meals at lunch and dinner time.

The highlight of the day always came after the last workout.

Physically drained and exhausted, everyone looked forward to the relaxing four-hour deep muscle massages that were offered in the massage parlor. At the conclusion of the massages, feeling reborn and revitalized, the group was ready to end the day just as it had started. They would pass back through that very same steel door and return to their solitary rooms for much needed sleep.

The door to the left was a mystery. It was said that if one’s arrow pointed to that particular door, then it indicated a person was finally ready to move on and start a new life. It was viewed as the third, and potentially highest, level that could be achieved.

Although Jayson wasn’t entirely cognizant of it, he had not lived his entire life in the room he currently occupied. Like everyone else before him, he just seemed to appear on the line one day.

Instinctively, he knew which room was his and what the arrows and all the different bell tones indicated. The only actual memory he had of the time before, was of a woman with long brunette hair, a gentle smile, and the brightest blue eyes. He often wondered who she was or if she had existed at all.

As they steadily approached the end of the hallway, Jayson began contemplating the unknown. As hard as he tried, his imaginings kept coming back to the reality he knew. He pictured himself standing on yet another line waiting for auditory cues and symbols to direct him where to go and what to do. He also envisioned another eight by eight steel room that would serve as his hygiene and sleeping quarters. Perturbed by his inability to imagine a different way of life, Jayson turned to Jacob for guidance.

“Jacob, what do you think happens if you’re chosen? I mean, no one truly knows where anyone goes, and no one’s ever returned to enlighten us. So where do you think you go?”

In a peaceful voice, Jacob responded, “Jayson, I understand your curiosity, but there’s no need to…” Jacob paused as he watched another red arrow point to the right. “Sorry about that. What I was saying is that there is no need to worry because, as long as you do everything you’re supposed to do here, your day will come. You’ll see that arrow point to the left and know that you’ve achieved your greatest potential and are qualified for the next level.”

Slightly frustrated, Jayson replied, “You didn’t answer my question. Everything you said sounded wonderful, but where do we go?”

Jeremiah, who stood two persons in front of Jacob, and who had been eavesdropping the entire time, chimed in, “That’s simple! If chosen, you go beyond the walls and keep careful watch on all the ones who are left behind. You also teach the young and small our way of life, readying them for this very level. I mean, how else would we be provided with the food we eat, the new ones that arrive, and everything else that we have been granted?”

Jeremiah’s words made sense to Jayson. If selected, you take on a responsibility so important and so critical to the survival of everyone, you can only achieve it when deemed ready. It was the reason only the strongest were chosen, and why the young or underachieving were rarely, if ever, chosen.

Jayson’s eyes shifted away from the black screen and onto Jacob’s body. Quickly glancing ahead to others in the line, it was easy to see that he and Jacob were by far the most muscular and physically fit. With veins bulging in every conceivable section of the body and muscle striations prominently displayed, it was as if they had been hand crafted out of steel.

A foreign sensation began to overwhelm Jayson as he gazed at Jacob’s near perfect body. He had never experienced anything like it before and instantly wished that it would go away. In an effort to make that happen, Jayson diverted his eyes from Jacob and glanced back at the black screen.

Symbol after symbol flashed to the right, but the uncomfortable sensation spiked when it was Jacob’s turn. For the first time in Jayson’s life, something seemed wrong with his perfectly chiseled midsection. It suddenly felt all weak and tingly as if something was carelessly fluttering around inside. Jayson had a strong suspicion the strange feeling had something to do with Jacob. Although not completely conscious of it, Jayson was convinced that Jacob was destined to be selected next. In his mind, he didn’t see how Jacob wouldn’t be chosen. Not only did Jacob appear physically ready, but Jayson was certain that he was mentally prepared as well.

Jayson locked his eyes on the screen, nervously anticipating Jacob’s fate. Then, as quickly as it had erupted, the troublesome feeling dissipated the moment a red arrow pointing to the right, flashed on the screen.

Although unable to admit it, Jayson was actually selfishly relieved that Jacob had not been chosen. To him, Jacob’s departure would be like losing a part of himself, and he just wasn’t ready to undergo such a dramatic change.

The door quickly slid open and, before exiting through the door, Jacob announced, “My time will come one day. Of that I am certain. I wish you the best Jayson and hope not to see you on the other side. Well, that’s not entirely true, but you know what I mean.”

Jayson didn’t even get to respond. He wanted to reply, to bid his daily farewell, but he was silenced by the sight of his arrow pointing to the left. He didn’t know what to think and didn’t have time to prepare himself for what came next. Heather, who rarely spoke on the line, congratulated Jayson as he made his way over to the door. With a pitch of excitement in the air, conversations quickly shifted to the topic of Jayson and his glorious accomplishment.

Jayson, on the other hand, didn’t share their excitment. The strange sensation in his stomach returned and grew in intensity as he waited for the door to slide open. In addition to the unease he felt in his abdomen, he thought it odd that his heart began to beat faster and faster and he wasn’t engaging in exercise of any sort. So he did what he always did after an intense workout. He began taking long, slow deep breaths and was comforted when he noticed that it was working.

When the door was finally open, Jayson convinced himself that it was a monumental occasion and there was nothing to be afraid of. Change was inevitable and if he was going to succeed in the next level, he would have to learn to evolve. Plus, if what Jeremiah had said rang true, he could always look after his friend from afar.

With this new perspective Jayson proudly passed through the narrow passageway.

He was startled when he noticed that the floor began to move once the door shut behind him. Off balance and slightly panicked, he reached for the walls for support but stopped himself after realizing the way the floor moved felt strangely familiar. The sound, the vibrations, and even the texture of the floor reminded him of one of his favorite exercise machines. On instinct, Jayson immediately began to run. Unlike his usual intense cardio workouts, this one only lasted a mere five seconds before he was forced to stop or crash into yet another stainless steel door that stood in front of him.

With self-preservation in mind, Jayson did not choose the latter option. He abruptly halted his sprint and coasted the last few feet before he reached the end of the moving hallway. He gracefully stepped off of the track and stood before what he hoped was the final door in his journey.

Suddenly, without any auditory notification of any sort, every light in the hallway shut off. Darkness flooded the space, leaving an uneasy feeling with Jayson. Perplexed, he wondered if something had gone terribly wrong and he began to fear the worst. Jayson’s heart once again began to thump heavily in his chest and the room unexpectedly began to feel smoldering hot. An urge to scream for help overcame him and he was about to do just that when the sweet sound of a bell’s ring assaulted his ear drums. Relaxed, he knew what was to follow.

The large steel door then began to slowly open, illuminating everything with a peaceful yet overwhelming white light. Jayson shielded his eyes, all the while desperately trying to get a peek at what lurked behind the chosen’s door. But as hard and as valiantly as he tried, the light was way too bright for his sensitive eyes. Saddened, Jayson reluctantly looked downward. Through squinted eyes Jayson stared at his pale, calloused feet as the thick steel door opened completely. Then, the moment the door came to a stop, another bell rang. As he was conditioned to do, Jayson stepped into the room.

After carefully taking several steps into the room, Jayson found his eyes were beginning to adjust to the change in lighting. He casually lifted his head and was shocked at what he saw. There resting against the far wall, underneath a large black arrow that was pointed downward, sat a solitary metal chair. Confused, Jayson walked over to the chair to get a better look at it. There was nothing unique about the chair, aside from its position underneath the large arrow. He thought it odd and pondered the possibilities, but after another bell rang, Jayson immediately saw the purpose of the chair and the symbol. He was to take a seat and wait for the final preparations for the move.

Jayson promptly sat down and rested his head against the cold steel wall. The sterile chair felt especially chilled on his buttocks and scrotum. Although previously apprehensive, a sense of calm crept over him, which strengthened after Jayson noticed that the room possessed not one, but two doors. With his attention drawn to the chair and black arrow, Jayson hadn’t initially noticed the second door. He stared at the door, positioned right across from where he was seated.

Jayson’s imagination began to run wild. He wondered if the woman with the dark brunette hair and piercing blue eyes was waiting behind that door along with all the others who had been chosen before him. He envisioned meeting her once again, and asking her of the time before. He also thought of how he would make it a priority to keep a watchful eye on his good friend, Jacob, and the others still waiting to be chosen.

Another bell rang, immediately alerting Jayson that it was time. He fixed his eyes on the door, certain its opening would soon follow. A smile spread across his face. He was ready.

A thunderous blast sounded and Jayson’s head and body jerked forward. On the way to the ground, images of the brunette woman’s smiling face and the back of Jacob’s head flashed before his eyes. Unable to discern what was happening to him, those were the last visions Jayson saw before his lifeless body hit the floor. Blood began pooling around him from the small entry wound, no larger than the size of a dime, at the base of his skull.

The door on which Jayson had been keeping a watchful eye finally sprang open. Clad in full-body protective suits, a man and a woman, with piercing blue eyes, entered the room and took every precaution to ensure that no more damage would come to Jayson’s primed and extremely valuable meat.

The End