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I was born in Montreal, but now live just outside Toronto, Canada with my wife, two kids and a fat Maine coon. I've been writing in some form or other throughout most of my life, but have only recently devoted a significant amount of time to completing the novels I dream about. Sadly, I can't write in my sleep or I would be able to spend my waking hours watching hockey, reading books, and playing video games. When the writing bug bites all the other interests in my life tend to get neglected. As for work, well, I'm an accountant, so I guess I've got a thing for both numbers and letters.
I have a short story below, The Culling, which is a part of my horror collection, Crooked Souls. Please check it out. Feel free to send me any feedback or questions you have to the contact e-mail below...although I don't know the meaning of life, so don't ask that one.
For generations, The Community has thrived within a complex cave system, sheltered from a blight that has infected the rest of the world. Despite the seeming perfection of their society, its people want nothing more than to return to the Outside, and so, every ten years, a Hope is chosen to venture forth and discover whether it is now safe for them to emerge from their rocky home. The Hope has never returned.
Generations of Fathers and Mothers have always guided the Community, and the people are completely devoted to them and their society, but after Bastion's dad is chosen he questions whether Father is truly the benevolent leader the rest of the Community believes. His lack of faith leads him on a path of self discovery and redemption, but he loses sight of those closest to him. Through his ignorance, Bastion sets the Community on a path that teeters between salvation and destruction.
Sometimes, a little knowledge is a dangerous thing...
A thin crack is all it takes for wickedness to coil into our world. Winding through the delicate minds of innocents and the twisted desires of killers, it preys upon the crippled pieces of our souls.
From a train bound for Hell, to the greedy cravings of a murderous unicorn, Crooked Souls is a collection of sixteen original horror stories about broken people and the unearthly encounters disturbing their lives.
If you like horror that builds steadily to twist endings, you’ll love Crooked Souls.
Born powerless, Arabel is abandoned in twilight by her lumin parents. Raised by greys, she is treated like an outsider for most of her life, yet when her enclave is raided by lumin soldiers, Arabel vows to rescue her people at any cost.
In spire city Coronus, Supreme Solar Roland discovers a dangerous firearm that violates the Great Edict – All machinery and weapons must be powered by lumins. Roland casts a suspicious eye upon the twilight dwelling greys, and ponders the relevance of their existence.
Two nations that once lived in harmony have become divided by prejudice and fear. But conflict will not restore their fractured bonds. Only the return of sun givers can set Tandor’s people on a path to reforging their broken ties. Only a sun giver can save them from destroying one another. But a sun giver hasn’t been discovered in generations…
“Jeremy 22, what year did America became the first country to adopt The Culling?” The image of Mr. Bolt seemed to peer at Jeremy through the vid screen on his bedroom wall.
“2114, Mr. Bolt.” A series of checkmarks flowed across the screen as hundreds of other students confirmed agreement. A few crosses were mixed in as well.
“Correct.” A bright, yellow happy face flashed across his monitor.
Across the city, others who responded correctly received a similar image. The few dummies that had been foolish enough to disagree with him would see a sad face with the message, Good try. Better luck next time. Supposedly, if someone got too many wrong answers the image changed to a wagging finger, but Jeremy couldn’t confirm if that were true. He rarely made mistakes.
“Carlton 11, how many questions are asked during The Culling?”
“That is confidential information. Full citizens are forbidden from discussing The Culling process or they shall be removed from the citizenship, Mr. Bolt.”
Jeremy flicked his eyes toward the green box in the corner of the screen and blinked. A flood of checkmarks zipped across the monitor, accompanied by a few crosses.
“Correct” Mr. Bolt pronounced. His voice quavered, sounding a bit tinny. Jeremy shook his head. Engineers had been trying for years to make teaching aides sound more human, but were still struggling to perfect the voice modulation. Mr. Bolt looked like a person on screen, but his voice had an inhuman quality that grated on Jeremy’s nerves.
A red number 20 on the screen flashed and began counting down.
“Thank you for your participation class. As usual, your daily assignment has been sent to your info hub. Study hard and keep up the good work.” Mr. Bolt smiled broadly before disappearing. The screen went blank.
Jeremy pushed his chair back and stretched. At least history class was interesting this semester. They were learning about The Culling, or at least the parts of it that were allowed to be taught. He had tried prodding his parents for more information, but they refused to tell him anything more than what he learned in class. The threat of removal was so serious that they wouldn’t break the rules, even in the privacy of their own home.
The Culling was an examination that was given to every citizen on their sixteenth birthday. It detected those who were likely to commit violent acts, and they were assigned for removal. During class, it was implied that The Culling was a series of questions, but Mr. Bolt hadn’t given a clear indication as to whether there were additional aspects to the test. Murder and even minor assaults had steadily decreased since its implementation, and among full citizens who had passed the examination, crime had been almost completely eliminated.
Jeremy turned sixteen in two weeks, and he wanted to do more than just pass The Culling. He wanted to ace it. A perfect mark would prove he was the perfect citizen; one that could never be considered a threat to society. But how could he ace a test that couldn’t be studied for? Jeremy stroked his chin. There had to be a way.
He shrugged out of the mandatory school sweater that was verified as part of class attendance and replaced it with a comfortable grey sweat shirt before heading to the kitchen for a snack.
Sitting at the dining room table, he chewed on a granola bar thoughtfully. The test had to have psychological roots. He’d always been interested in the subject, and had spent days at the vid screen reading articles about psychology. For the past year, he’d focused his attention on anything potentially related to The Culling, but after the year 2114, research around the psychology of violence petered out. The same year of the original Culling. Why would that be? There were still plenty of studies about such things as depression, sexuality, panic attacks and so on, but all theories revolving around violent behavior disappeared after 2114.
The average person probably figured there was no longer a need for the research, but Jeremy was most definitely not an average person. He suspected the government agency in charge of The Culling, referred to as “The Administration” had deleted the records. But why would the administration remove those studies? The answer was obvious. They held clues about The Culling. Jeremy grinned. The answer was out there, but he needed more information. He needed to find someone who was willing to talk about The Culling. His parents had stonewalled him, but there was one person who might help. Someone who had taken the original test years ago. His grandmother. He strode to the front door and pulled on a leather jacket. It was time to visit grandma.
It was blustery and cold outside. Jeremy walked with his head turned sideways as the wind slapped his face. He should have worn a hat. The neighbor’s German Shepherd snarled at him as he passed. Jeremy paused, and then approached the dog. It was chained to the front porch and started barking madly, straining at the leash. Jeremy stood, just out of reach and regarded it calmly. Spittle flew from the dog’s mouth as it barked and growled. It was fun teasing the ugly beast. He smiled and knelt down, picking some small stones from the ground.
“Yeah, you remember me don’t you?” he taunted.
His voice drove the dog wild. It’s barking increased in volume.
“Hey, stop bothering my dog,” a small voice called from the doorway.
Jeremy looked up and regarded a thin boy with black, curly hair. Dwayne. One of the neighborhood brats.
“Your dog’s the one bothering me.” Jeremy glanced around. The driveway was empty. “Are you alone Dwayne?”
“No, my big sisters here, and I’m going to get her if you keep bugging my dog.”
Jeremy shrugged and walked away, letting the stones drop to the ground. The dog barks followed him until he turned the street corner and disappeared from sight. Too bad his sister was home.
He reached a wide avenue with a bus shelter at the corner. Automated glass doors slid open as he approached the shelter. Jeremy punched the bus button and sat down to wait. He liked visiting grandma. He saw her at least once a month. Her memory was erratic, and she sometimes forgot his name, but she did remember a lot from her youth. Hopefully she recalled The Culling.
Cars with tinted windows whizzed past in automated precision. In history class, they learned that decades ago people used to drive vehicles manually and accidents were a regular occurrence. Nowadays, when an autonomous vehicle crashed, it was a major news event.
The long silver tube shaped bus approached and stopped. Jeremy departed the shelter and held his eye to the scanner. The door opened after the fare was deducted from his pay hub account. Jeremy was always careful to keep a credit balance. You never knew when you had to make an unexpected purchase or grab a quick taxi.
The bus was almost empty. A white haired man with a walker sat in a handicapped spot and a heavyset woman was with a little girl in a two-seater section. Jeremy went to the back bank of seats and sat with his legs spread wide. He stared at the other passengers. The woman fussed with the little girl. She was trying to do up the button on her jacket, but the girl kept squirming away, giggling. The woman appeared to be both irritated and amused at the same time. Jeremy supposed that most people would find them cute.
The old man pressed the button for his stop and creakily rose to his feet with the aid of the walker. Jeremy glanced outside. It was one stop early. He was curious to see where the man was going, but resisted the impulse to follow. Not today. He needed to see grandma. The bus stayed stopped until the old man managed to make his way clear of the bottom step. Jeremy was unsure how the bus knew to stay stopped for so long. There must be sensors or cameras that informed the computer system a passenger was disembarking. He shook his head. Fucking cameras were everywhere nowadays. It was hard to get any privacy, especially when you weren’t a full citizen.
He exited at his stop and turned his head away from a gust of cold wind. What a shit day. It was fall, but it felt more like winter. Jeremy hunched his shoulders and hurried along the empty sidewalk. No one wanted to be outside on a day like this. Summer was better, when innocent citizens strolled in public parks and unaware animals could be found in the ravine outside his house. Jeremy smiled. Yes, summer was definitely better.
The senior’s home was an immaculate white building, seven floors high. If it weren’t for the sign out front, “Bingman’s Home for the Elderly”, Jeremy would have thought it was just another apartment building. The automated doors slid open, admitting him to the foyer. Jeremy rubbed his hands together, bringing some warmth into them.
A mechanical voice emitted from a speaker in the upper right corner. “Please state your name, purpose, and present yourself for identification.”
“Jeremy Ritten, here to visit my grandmother.” He pressed his eye to a scanner beside the interior door.
“Identity confirmed, Jeremy. Please wait one moment while we confirm acceptance.”
He tapped his feet. Grandma had never declined a visit before, but it was a possibility. Jeremy wasn’t always nice to her. He frowned. Sometimes he had poor impulse control.
“Visit accepted, please proceed to room 412. Deviation from the permitted room will result in expulsion from the premises. Have a nice day.”
The door slid open and Jeremy stole into the main lobby. A bank of silver elevators was in front of him, and hallways led to the left and right. Jeremy would have loved to explore the building, but security was tight. The numerous cameras blinking along the corridors were hard to miss.
He strode into an open elevator and punched a button for the fourth floor. The doors closed and there was a soft hum as it rose. The elevator smelled pungent, as if someone had urinated in it. Jeremy crinkled his nose and frowned. Goddamn old people. Couldn’t they piss in a toilet like everyone else?
The doors opened and Jeremy exited into a plain beige hallway. A woman in a white coat stepped onto the elevator as he departed and nodded a greeting at him. He ignored her. She was the first real person he’d seen since arriving. So much was automated nowadays. He looked down the hall. Grandma’s door was already open and he noticed her peeking out at him. She saw him approach, and her head snapped out of sight. Jeremy smiled. Maybe she remembered his last visit.
He hurried to her apartment and shut the door after entering. The blinds were closed and it smelled stale, like the windows hadn’t been opened in years. A row of printed photos of him and his parents decorated the far wall. They were all old pictures from when he was little. She probably liked him more when he was younger.
His grandmother sat on a torn green couch. Thin strands of grey hair hung over her twitching eyes. Her hands shook as he drew near.
“Grandma, it’s nice to see you.” Jeremy gripped her elbow and leaned down, giving her a kiss on the cheek.
She winced at the pressure on her elbow, but managed a shaky smile. “Jeremy. It’s been a while.”
She recognized him. Perfect. She was having a good day.
“Oh, only a month.” He gave a hard squeeze to her arm and enjoyed the flash of pain across her features before he released her.
“I…um, do you want something to eat or drink?”
Jeremy grinned. “No grandma, I just came for your company.”
“Oh,” she hesitated. “That’s nice.” She looked over his shoulder, avoiding his intense gaze.
“Is there something wrong grandma? Don’t you like when I visit?”
“No, I, uh, it’s just that. Did something happen last time you were here?”
“What do you mean?”
“I don’t know. I had some bruises on my side.”
“You must have fallen grandma. Sometimes you can be clumsy.”
“Yes, I suppose so.”
“I was wondering if you could help me.” Jeremy stared at her coldly.
“I, uh,” she stuttered and put her head down.
“Do you remember The Culling?” he sat on the couch and moved closer.
She nodded her head, but continued looking at the floor.
“Did you know that I’m going to be taking it in two weeks?”
Her mouth opened and she seemed to gulp some air “Oh, sometimes I forget how old you are.”
“That’s okay,” he reached forward and raised her head so their eyes met. “You like when I visit, don’t you grandma?”
She nodded. “Yes Jeremy. You’re a very good boy.”
“Yes I am grandma, and you want me to pass The Culling with flying colors don’t you?” He took one of her arthritic hands and gave it a gentle squeeze.
She nodded and tried to pull her hand free, but Jeremy held it fast.
“I was curious what kind of questions they asked you at The Culling.”
Grandma shook her head. “It’s not allowed. They told us we would be removed.”
Jeremy caressed her hand, and then gave it a firmer squeeze. “I understand. It’ll be our secret. You wouldn’t want me to fail, now would you?”
She winced, “No, but I remember so little. It was horrible.” Her eyes darkened, as if recalling something terrible. “I was alone in a room, and there were questions and disgusting images. Sometimes I still have nightmares. I don’t know. I can’t remember anything else.”
Jeremy held tight to her hand. Disgusting images. There were tests conducted a long time ago where they registered people’s reactions to shocking images. He rubbed his chin with his free hand. Could this be how the test was conducted? By weeding out those individuals who had no reaction to pictures that caused the average person to recoil in horror.
Jeremy looked down at his grandmother’s crooked fingers. He gave them a tight squeeze. “Thanks grandma. You’ve been a great help.”
She gasped and pulled her hand close to her chest.
“I’ll see you next month grandma. Don’t worry. I won’t tell anyone what you said to me. I couldn’t bear it if you were removed.” He held a finger to his lips then departed, relishing the look of fear on her face.
“I received a notification that you visited your grandmother today.” Jeremy’s father speared a piece of broccoli and pointed the fork at him accusingly.
Jeremy raised an eyebrow. “And…”
“Just curious why. Usually you go on the weekend.”
“No reason, dad. I just had some free time after school.”
His mother leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. “You’re such a good boy, Jeremy. I doubt your classmates are anywhere near as kind to their grandparents.”
“Oh, I don’t know mom. I’m sure there are plenty of other people out there like me.” Jeremy picked up his dishes and placed them on the counter. “I’ll be in my room. I have a lot of homework.”
He hurried upstairs. Jeremy didn’t really have much homework. He needed to prepare for The Culling. His grandmother had given him a hint, but he hoped he had enough time to train his mind.
He pulled a thick notebook from under his bed and began flipping through the pages. For the past year he’d been recording every psychological study he could find that may have some sort of relation to The Culling. Ah, here it is. A study by Doctor Leonard Noman in 2059. Dr. Noman received permission from the government to analyze brain patterns of sixteen year olds. There was enormous financial backing for the study, and he had offered cash for volunteers. Supposedly, he received nearly one hundred thousand volunteers according to the article. After that, Jeremy had uncovered no further mention of the study, or what the conclusion was.
Twenty five years later, the same Doctor Leonard Noman did a series of isolated tests on sixteen year olds wherein he examined their reaction to pictures and videos that were displayed on a vid screen. Again, there was no summary of the results of the study, and Leonard Noman became little more than a footnote in history.
Jeremy had only noted the studies because he found it interesting that Doctor Noman had experimented on sixteen years old kids. The same age The Culling was administered. The first Culling had not occurred until thirty years after Doctor Noman’s last experiment, but his grandmother’s mention of pictures had tweaked Jeremy’s interest.
Was it possible that Doctor Noman’s original experiments were the basis for The Culling? There were many theories that violent offenders could be detected by the way they thought, and even some debatable proof, but what if Doctor Noman had discovered a foolproof detection system. What if that original analysis of sixteen year olds was used to verify how many of those teens became violent offenders? What if his original predictions were one hundred percent accurate?
Jeremy continued to flip the pages in his notebook until he reached a grainy picture of Doctor Noman. It was taken around the time of the second set of tests. He had piercing eyes and a full head of black hair, despite his age, which must have been close to sixty. He wasn’t smiling. Jeremy tapped the picture. You figured it out didn’t you? A way to predict killers.
It wasn’t a lot to go on, but his grandmother had indicated she had seen horrible things during The Culling. Jeremy wasn’t stupid. He knew what was considered terrible to most people wasn’t the same for him. His mind was different. It operated on a higher level. One that understood people were nothing more than animals, and that compassion for an animal was pointless. Jeremy shook his head. His opinion didn’t matter. He was well aware that society didn’t look upon him as “advanced”. He refocused his thoughts.
So, during The Culling, candidates must be having their brain waves analyzed while being showed shocking images. Those with violent tendencies were betrayed by their brain’s reactions, or perhaps non-reactions to the pictures. It wasn’t a new theory. Jeremy had seen predictions like this going back more than a hundred years during his research; however, the science had seemingly never been perfected.
He paused and dug a pencil into his palm until he pierced the skin. He licked the thin drop of blood that issued forth. So, if his theory was correct, somehow he needed to fool the test, and to fool the test he needed to react like a normal person. It sounded easy, but Jeremy wasn’t sure it was even possible. Two weeks to change how his brain reacted when being submitted questions or images by some sort of program or process that had proven itself to be nearly perfect.
He grinned, humorlessly. No problem. Now that he knew what to expect, it should be easy. He’d been fooling his parents for years. How hard could it be?
He glanced at the on button of his vid monitor and blinked. The screen lit up.
“Images, the holocaust.”
Jeremy flicked his eyes to the arrow indicator and scanned across black and white pictures of saluting soldiers, malnourished children and mass graves. To this day, the holocaust was considered one of the worst reflections of humanity in history, yet they were just pictures to him. Neither good, nor bad. Just something that had happened.
No. He slapped his face. These were horrible. This is how he was going to be tested. He needed his heart rate to rise, his eyes to widen in fear, and tears to roll down his cheeks, or he would fail. He refocused on compassion, sadness and horror as he looked at the pictures. It was harder than he thought.
For the next two weeks, Jeremy spent all his free time looking at violent, horror filled images on the vid monitor. It actually wasn’t an unusual past time of his. But now he focused on trying to achieve a connection with the suffering on the screen. Genocide, murders, even images from horror movies. He tried to tamp down on his natural instinct to ignore or even smile at the horrors being inflicted, but instead lowered his eyes and looked away.
He had no way to monitor how successful he was. Visually, he was confident in his ability to fool anyone, but he suspected it was more than outside monitors that needed to be tricked. He needed to fool a machine, which was a whole other level of difficulty.
September 9th. Happy birthday to me. Jeremy rose from bed to the sound of a beeping vid monitor. A message lit up the screen.
Congratulations, today you have been selected to participate in The Culling. A car will be waiting for you at your home at ten o’clock a.m. Do not be late.
The message disappeared after registering his comprehension.
He rubbed his eyes. It was early. He had three hours before the car arrived. Well, may as well put in an appearance with his parents. It was possible they’d never see him again. He showered and dressed, then headed downstairs. A big breakfast was already set out on the table.
His mother looked up at him proudly when he entered the dining room. “There he is, our boy. Soon to be a full citizen.”
His father stuffed a strip of bacon into his mouth. “So, do you feel any different birthday boy?”
Why did he say that every year? “No, I’m the same as yesterday.”
“Perfect. You keep saying that every year, and you’ll always feel like a kid.” He guffawed.
Jeremy held back a wince and managed a fake smile. “Good one, dad.”
“Ignore your father. Let’s talk about something more interesting. Are you nervous about The Culling?”
Jeremy hesitated. He’d never been nervous about anything in his life. What would most people say? “A little.”
“Well don’t be. You’re smart, and sensitive. Nothing like the creeps we need to keep off the streets” his mother beamed.
“Your mother’s right. There’s no need to be nervous. It’s kind of like getting an immunization shot. It hurts for a bit, but you’ll forget about the experience soon enough.”
Jeremy didn’t argue, though grandma clearly hadn’t forgotten.
“I need to do some homework. I’ll have my breakfast later.”
“Okay. Remember to come down when the car arrives. We need to go to work, but we’ll see you when you return home as a full citizen. And don’t forget we still have to give you your birthday present.” His mother rose and kissed him on the cheek.
His father moved close as if he was going to give him a hug, but then changed his mind, and gripped his hand, giving it a firm shake.
Jeremy smiled and thanked them for their kind words then returned to his room. He shuddered. That was painful. Hopefully they’d leave soon. He lay on his bed. He didn’t want to practice for The Culling anymore. Another hour wouldn’t change anything.
He looked forward to being a full citizen. There were certain restricted locations that he would be able to access, and best of all, the cameras weren’t programmed to track the movements of full citizens to the same degree they monitored teenagers. After The Culling, the risk of violence from a full citizen was considered extremely low.
Loud barking erupted from outside his window. He rose, parted the curtains and peered into the neighbor’s yard. Their damn dog had its paws up against a tree and was barking madly at something in the branches. Jeremy frowned. The first thing he planned to do after becoming a full citizen was to get rid of that damn dog. No one would suspect him after he became a full citizen.
He returned to his bed and dozed. Was it weird that he felt so relaxed? No, it was just a sign of good preparation. The monitor buzzed, startling him. He’d actually fallen asleep. A message flashed on the screen.
It is now 9:50. Please ensure you are present at the appointed time to be transported to the administration center.
Jeremy strode downstairs and grabbed a couple of energy bars before pulling on a pair of loafers and a thin windbreaker. He supposed an average person might look fondly around the house and worry they might never see it again, but Jeremy was confident he would return. He stepped outside. It was another blustery fall day. He hadn’t dressed warmly enough, but it was only a short walk to the waiting government vehicle.
It was a silver sedan with tinted black windows. The front windshield had red blinking lights on either side, like eyes. For a moment, Jeremy wondered what would happen if he just kept walking. It was nothing but a passing thought. With the tight surveillance on partial citizens, he’d be picked up within an hour, and likely removed.
He approached the rear passenger door. It clicked open upon sensing his presence. Huh. High-tech. It probably only opened for him as well. The Administration spared no expense when it came to The Culling. The dashboard lit red when he sat down and the car hummed to life.
“Please fasten your safety belt,” a robotic voice directed.
“Yeah, yeah, I know.” It had been fifty years since vehicles would start with a passenger that wasn’t wearing their seatbelt, yet they still gave the same instruction every time.
The sedan reversed out of the driveway once he was buckled in and it wasn’t long before they were on the main highway heading away from the city. The regional administration buildings and most of the government offices were located in a secluded, high security region. In the past, society had demanded to have open forums for government discussions, but after the success of The Culling and the resulting improvements to the economy, things changed dramatically. Voting was a thing of the past. America had become as close to a utopia as could be imagined, and no one wanted to mess with a good thing.
Jeremy looked out the car window as they drove. Automated cars glided along at an even pace. In the days of manual vehicles, there used to be such a thing as traffic tickets. Just another infraction that no longer happened in today’s world. Jeremy allowed himself a small smile at the thought that not only were violent crimes virtually eliminated, but citizens couldn’t even get a speeding ticket anymore.
Venture Side Road, government access only. No pedestrian access, flashed on a digital sign and the sedan shifted to the right hand lane. As they exited, they drove through a bank of scanning cameras, likely verifying the government identification plates. Jeremy sighed. He really wasn’t born to be part of this world. Security was so tight. If he’d been born a hundred years ago, he would have been much happier.
The sedan drove down a smooth single lane road. Periodically, they passed a stone bunker with a blinking scanner on top. Jeremy noticed a soldier peering out from one of the bunkers. Huh, guess there was some non-automation in this place after all. Gradually, the buildings increased in size until they arrived in front of a giant domelike structure.
The sedan stopped.
“We have arrived at the administration center. Please follow the yellow line to the testing room. You will be permitted ten minutes to travel to your destination.”
Jeremy stepped clear of the vehicle. All around, he saw other vehicles dropping off teenagers in different spots around the circular administration centre. At his feet, a glowing yellow line lit up the ground. It travelled in a straight line toward the dome.
Ten minutes. Not much time for touring the facility. He obediently followed the line. As he drew near to the administration centre, he noticed a few teenagers exiting from a much larger entrance to the left. They wore broad smiles and stepped lightly across the pavement. Full citizens. They must have passed The Culling. Jeremy reached the building and confidently opened an unadorned metal door. Soon, he would be the one smiling.
He entered a narrow hallway with steel doors on either side. The yellow line continued down the corridor for a short ways and stopped at the third door on the left.
“All partial citizens reporting for The Culling, please follow your designated line to the assigned doorway. Non compliance will result in immediate removal. Thank you.” A monotone voice announced what was likely a programmed message triggered by the main door being opened.
He followed the line and pushed open a heavy, sky blue door. It slammed shut behind him, followed by a sharp click. Locked probably. The room contained what appeared to be a smooth metal lawn chair. At the head of the chair was a small helmet with three wires sticking out from the sides. A wide mirror occupied one wall of the room, and on either side of the room were two doors. Jeremy glanced at the mirror. He imagined a presence was there. Someone was monitoring the room from within.
A loudspeaker from above the mirror crackled to life. “Please have a seat in the chair and place the helmet on. A series of multiple choice questions will be presented. Do your best to respond accurately.”
Crap. He’d been wrong. Multiple choice questions were not what he’d anticipated. Jeremy sat on the chair. It was cold. He wished he’d warn a thicker shirt. The helmet was snug, but eventually settled above his ears. He felt a few electrical shocks on the top of his head, as if he were touching a doorknob after rubbing his feet on the carpet, but then they stopped.
The ceiling opened up and a large vid monitor lowered until it was about four feet in front of his eyes. It was in a perfect viewing position, and he actually felt quite comfortable, other than the cold metal. If he were out in the warm sun, he could have fallen asleep.
The black screen flickered on and a question appeared. What is the square root of one hundred and forty four, A. 11, B. 16, C. 12, D. None of the above.
Jeremy flicked his eyes toward the checkmark on C. and blinked. A smiley face appeared. Okay. This isn’t so bad. It’s just like school. The questions continued, and they were easy for Jeremy. He got in a rhythm. Scanning the question, getting the answer and getting a happy face. He’d done tests before, but this was almost hypnotic. He hadn’t gotten a single one wrong. A woman appeared on the screen. Her hands were covered in blood and she was cradling a young child. Jeremy examined the picture for the solution before he realized what was happening. He summoned the mask of sorrow and fought to feel empathy for the poor woman on the monitor. The image disappeared and was replaced by a new question.
He was rattled and got the next question wrong. An unhappy face appeared. Jeremy gritted his teeth. No, this fucking test wouldn’t trick him again. He refocused and began zipping through the questions. Soon enough, an image of an old man leaning back in a rocker appeared. His hands were reaching into his stomach and he was pulling out his intestines in long bloody loops. Jeremy was ready for it. He recoiled in horror until the image disappeared.
The test continued, but it felt different. Almost like a decision had already been made. There were more questions and some attempts to trick him, but they seemed half hearted and the images only lasted for a fraction of a second.
After a final question the monitor rose to the ceiling. A red light flashed above the door on his right and it clicked open. “You have been selected for removal. Please leave the room through the open door…and remember to take all of your belongings.”
Fury rose up in Jeremy. Removal. Who the fuck did they think they were messing with? He rose to his feet and glared at the mirror. The upper corners of the room snapped and a set of panels rotated revealing a pair of automatic machine guns. They shifted with a whirr and their barrels pointed toward Jeremy.
“You have thirty seconds to collect your belongings and leave the room,” the voice advised.
“Yeah, yeah” Jeremy scanned the room, but couldn’t see a way out. Even if the other door was unlocked, which he highly doubted, there was nowhere to run. He held his head high and strode through the door with the red light. He wasn’t going to go out like some pathetic chump.
Inside was an octagon shaped room with two more doors. Behind an oak desk in the centre of the room a man with steel grey hair sat on a high backed leather chair.
“Hello Jeremy. My name is Nigel. Please, have a seat.” He indicated a smaller, leather chair in front of the desk.
Jeremy remained standing. “Why? I’ve been removed.”
Nigel cocked his head, “Is that what you want? To be removed”
Jeremy shook his head and sat down.
The man regarded him with cold eyes, unspeaking.
Jeremy glared back. He wasn’t going to talk first.
“You were quite impressive during that test,” Nigel scanned a document on the desk. “I think you may even have fooled us…if it weren’t for that very first image.”
“Don’t worry. It catches the best of our kind, although I’ve never seen such a quick adjustment. How did you do it?” He peered at Jeremy, curiously.
The man ignored the question. “Do you know what a mess the country was in under our previous government structure?”
“I’ve taken history.”
“The government was filled with nothing but corruption and weak decision makers”
“But everything changed after The Culling. Did you know there was a lot of opposition to our founder? The history you’ve learned wouldn’t have told you just how much opposition.”
Jeremy raised an eyebrow. This was starting to sound interesting. And it was definitely better than getting cut down by machine guns.
“Our founder, Damian Preman, was quite determined that he had the correct solution to administer the government. However, he had unorthodox ways to eliminate any political opposition.”
“Yes Jeremy. I can see that you’re a quick study.”
“What Mr. Preman discovered was that a strong government needs the toughest leadership. Those who can make decisions for the country without emotion, without politics, solely based on reason. And so a new breed of government was born. A powerful administration of people who operate from the shadows without fear of repercussion for their actions.”
“You want me to join you.” Jeremy kept his features flat.
A flash of surprise crossed Nigel’s features. “My oh my. You are quick. Yes, and there’s one of the reason why. Intuitiveness, combined with intelligence and ruthlessness. The Culling is designed not only to rid society of the worst people, but also to discover the best. We shall train you to be a great leader for America.”
“I can’t change who I am.”
“We don’t want you to.” Nigel paused. “Many useless people are removed during The Culling; those of low IQ or base violent impulses, as well as the occasional rule breakers. The appetites of our prized leaders are well fed by this fodder. So, what do you say Jeremy?”
“You were wondering how I almost fooled The Culling.”
Nigel raised an eyebrow, “Yes, it was quite a surprise to the observers.”
“My grandmother gave me some hints.”
“That is quite serious. You are aware she will need to be removed.” Nigel cocked his head.
Jeremy nodded “Yes.”
Understanding spread across Nigel’s face, “And after she has been removed, would you like to tend to her?”
“Nothing would make me happier.”
Nigel smiled and reached forward to shake his hand. “Jeremy, I believe you are going to make a marvelous addition to The Administration.”
Jeremy took the proffered hand and smiled without warmth. “And to think how close I came to missing out on this perfect opportunity.”
100% - Sun Giver
What should I do next, Hmm?