By Grace L
The storm raged and the frigid night shuddered, torn in two. The man sat in the very corner of a desolate building, hunched over a desk. When he noticed a figure in the distance, he grinned darkly. From his pocket, he pulled a gleaming dice and tossed it up into the air, and caught it again. He threw the dice towards the approaching figure, and disappeared.
The boy groaned. The sun was blinding- too bright for someone that had lived in darkness for two years. The bed creaked as he sat up, rubbing his eyes. He walked over to the window, and pulled open the heavy, velvet curtains. An endless sea of glittering buildings rose before him. Rooftop gardens colored the city, and a circling garden surrounded the buildings below. Then, there was a knock on the door.
The boy froze – panicking for a moment until he realized that the war was over and there were no more Nazis chasing him, that there was no longer a reason to hide. The door opened. Two men stepped in to the room, silent on the carpeted floor. They wore peculiar clothing: long, draping, almost curtain-like shirts and pants in colors that varied and shifted as they moved around.
“Roller 7897 has awakened,” a mechanical voice announced as they entered. “Name: Vincent. Age: 12 years. Time: 1938.”
“Please sit down,” the two men said. “We must perform a health check.” From his sleeve, the first man pulled out a syringe, wielding it like a knight brandishing his sword, preparing for war. The second man slipped on a glove, embroidered with metallic circles over the nerves on his hand. He reached forwards and seized Vincent’s arm. The metal on the gloves were cold, like ice. The first man stepped towards him, and in an instant, as deft and quiet as an owl descending on the cornered mice, he entered the syringe into Vincent’s skin. A wave of darkness crashed down on him.
Vincent frowned. It was night already? And here he was, thinking that he could explore the city without any fear of running into Nazis. His annoying parents had never let him go outside with his friends- even when there was no war. They kept telling him this and that, bickering about how he shouldn’t do this and how he shouldn’t do that. They would’ve driven him mad. So Vincent had decided to leave and never go back. They can let their fear rule their lives, but Vincent left and came to the future on his own. He scratched the back of his neck, frustrated. He wandered around the room, running his fingers over the slick varnish of the wooden table. A mechanical device Vincent didn’t recognize sat on the desk. Curious, Vincent reached up and tapped the screen.
“Hello,” a voice said. Vincent expected to hear the door open, but instead, a cartoon creature appeared in a hologram, projected from the screen of the device. “I am your Deviguide. I am in charge of introducing you to the brilliant new city of Crystine and helping you along.” The creature twirled around as it spoke. It was simple, with pale blue skin and fingerless hands. Vincent scowled, annoyed. He didn’t need some bobbing toy to follow him around. He wanted to explore the city! As if sensing Vincent’s impatience, it held up one arm and said, “Ticket.” A thin strip of blank paper appeared in her hand. The words appeared as if there was some person writing on it, instead of empty air. After the final word appeared, the Deviguide handed the paper to Vincent. “This is your ticket into the city. Please hold it close, as I can only make one copy.”
The paper glowed, illuminating the room with artificial light. Vincent reached for it hesitantly, unsure what to do. When his skin touched the holographic image, it flickered for a moment, before fluttering down into the palm of his hand. It was no longer a hologram. A piece of real paper rested in his hand- physical evidence of his escape from the war that nearly drove him mad.
“What do I do with it?” Vincent asked, rocking back and forth on the soles of his feet. “When can I start exploring the city?” The thin, wiry smile appeared on the Deviguide’s face.
“Whenever you like. The city of Crystine welcomes you.”
“Then, I’ll start now!” Vincent was ecstatic. “Where do I start with?”
“All new citizens are expected to go to the City Hall. Please come with me,” she said, floating up and down expectantly. Vincent frowned. Why wasn’t the Deviguide moving? Suddenly, the speaker above buzzed to life.
“Your Deviguide is under maintenance. Please wait outside the Roller Building. The Mechanical Maintenance Center will send someone to pick you up immediately,” a voice said, startling Vincent.
The Deviguide continued bobbing, up and down, up and down.
Vincent stepped outside. A saucer-like device hovered above the surface of the ground, a glass dome over it.
“Welcome to the City of Crystine! I have orders to take you to the City Hall, correct?” The device spun around, talking excitedly.
“Correct,” Vincent said. He took a hesitant step towards the device. As if sensing his presence nearing it, the glass dome retracted into the device. “Could you,” Vincent began, unsure of how to voice his question politely, “Could you perhaps tell me what you are?”
The device laughed. “I am a MHB, or a Magnetic Hovering Board,” it explained. Vincent didn’t know how to respond. Finally, he took a brave step onto the laughing MHB.
The City of Crystine was magnificent. Around him, Vincent saw enormous gleaming buildings, emerald grass, and brilliant blue skies. The sun warmed the waltzing breeze and people bustled around him, laughing and talking amongst each other. Paradise, Vincent thought. He used to wake up to the sound of fire, gunshots and chaos, and walked the streets in constant fear. I’ve escaped hell and came to heaven.
The MHB sailed through the winding streets and dazzling architecture. As they slowed, the curtain of skyscrapers slowly parted and revealed a twisting, ivory building that stood, tall and grand in the center of a garden and spiraling cobblestones.
“It’s almost as if I’m Alice in Wonderland,” Vincent remarked, turning to look at the entire city that lay at his feet. And just as he turned back towards the City hall, the white wooden doors opened.
“The City of Crystine welcomes you!” Two people stood at the steps of the City Hall, holding the doors open. “My name is Avelina,” the women said, and the man nods. “I am Cedrick. Please come with us.”
They lead Vincent through twisting corridors with pristine white walls and portraits that dated back centuries, into a large chamber with a desk in the center. The walls are holographic images, a panoramic view that shifted and showed life around the City of Cristine. Cedrick walked forwards and presses a card to the screen, and the wall comes to life. The lights dim and the screen darkened as a voice began talking.
“Life before the City of Crystine was one of the worst times of human history. Disease, crime, and war plagued our world.” The holographic screen shifted, playing a aged, black and white film from a battle. “People lived in constant fear of death and mortal strife.” The voice went silent, and there was the sound of bombs and screaming and death. A sound of death so loud that it made him want to cover his ears and cower in the corner of his room because it was so, horribly familiar. “Then the worst decade in history began, World War 3. It was a nuclear battle that forced thousands of species to extinction and killed more people than all the battles in history combined.” The walls changed to a clearer, colored film. There were explosions everywhere, and not a single sign of life. “Human and animal kind was almost wiped out, until one man stepped forwards and demanded peace. He brought thousands of people to stand at the top of the tallest building on earth, and vowed to stop the war.” The hologram showed a man with a huge crowd behind him, tall and proud and powerful. “That man was Malcolm Crystine, the founder for the City of Crystine. He did as he promised and from the aftermath of war, he built a gleaming city.” The screen darkened again, and suddenly, the face of Malcolm Crystine appeared. He stood in front of the City Hall.
“From this day forwards, you are all citizens of this new city. There will be no war and disease and everyone can live happily and peacefully forever,” Malcolm Crystine said to the camera. “Welcome to the City of Crystine!” The lights turned on again and Avelina clapped. She stepped forwards towards the table at the center of the room and pulled a card out from a drawer. “This is your Identification card. Please hold it close at all times,” Avelina explained.
“Just like Malcolm Crystine said, we are all citizens of the City of Crystine. Now, why don’t you explore your new home?” Cedrick said, laughing. They pushed open the grand wooden doors and Vincent took his first step into the city as an official citizen.
“Hey,” a voice said behind Vincent.
“Uh,” Vincent said, apprehensive, but as he turns around and sees that the boy means no harm, he answered. “Hey.”
“Great!” the boy exclaims. “What’s your name?”
“I’m Casper,” the boy said. He looked at Vincent’s clothes and the Identification Card in his hand and asked, “Are you a roller?”
“What’s a roller?” Casper laughed at Vincent’s question.
“Yea, you definitely are! Remember before you came here, there was a man who asked you to roll a dice?”
“I remember,” Vincent said, not keen to meet that man ever again.
“Well, being a roller is basically when you roll a dice, it signifies how you have signed the contract and will be sent to the City of Crystine. It was devised as an unsuspicious way to bring people like you here,” Casper explained.
“Oh,” Vincent muttered, awkward and hesitant. “So, do you have any idea where I can start?”
“I would recommend the library,” Casper said, gesturing at the tall building that spiked into the sky. “I could show you the way, if you want.”
“Yea, I think that would be good,” Vincent said, agreeing. He started down the path towards the library. Casper walked behind him, pointing out every landmark that caught his interest.
“There, the plaza. People gather there to celebrate every holiday.” Casper’s pace slowed to a stop. “I’ve heard that rollers can be…” Casper said, not finishing his sentence. He fiddled with his sleeves and finally asked, “Are you Jewish?” Vincent’s blood froze. The peculiar question forced him to stand paralyzed in fear and rooted to the ground.
“No,” he said automatically. Casper looked up, frowning.
“No?” he asked, as if not wanting to believe what he just heard. “So it’s true. Rollers aren’t Jewish?” He said that as if it was impossible, that it couldn’t possibly be true. Suddenly, Casper looked up and grabbed his wrist, dragging him across the street and forcing several cruising MHBs to a stop. They ran past people to the center of the plaza, and Casper turned back to face Vincent. “You’re not Jewish?” he asked again.
“No,” Vincent replied. Casper’s eyes were wild, and he pulled from his sleeve a long syringe almost identical to the one that the two men had. His grip on Vincent’s wrist was ice cold.
“Not,” he said. “Not Jewish.” The syringe slid into his skin, and once again, Vincent fell down into a wave of darkness. He fell onto the center of the city plaza, under the radiant azure sky and bleached clouds surrounded by a ring of people, never to wake up again.