"Son, don't walk over there. That's the ladies' sidewalk. We're not allowed on that section of the road."
"Okay, Dad," Owen said as he hurried to his father's side, his head held down to show the proper respect. Just as he began keeping step with his dad, Owen's shoelace lost its last shred of dignity, ripping apart at the seams and causing the small boy to trip. The large, leather-bound book he was carrying flew out in front of him, pages splaying haphazardly on the ground.
Owen's father rushed to pick up the book, looking sideways to verify that no one had seen his son's mistake. "You must be more careful!" he shouted in a whisper. "What if someone had seen? You must never allow anything to happen to the book! The law requires a punishment for such blasphemy."
"I'm sorry, Dad. It was an accident. I won't let it happen again. I promise." The boy sighed. "Dad, I can't use these shoes anymore. The shoelace in the right one is busted up. My shoe won't stay on."
"Yes, Son, but you know it is against the law to want something we don't have. We will just have to wait for the kindness of the Council. When they think you need something, they will provide that need accordingly. Just be patient. They know what's best."
Nodding, Owen removed his shoe and continued walking with his father. They walked along in companionable silence for some time, the elder carrying his son's book as Owen hobbled beside him trying hard not to step on any pointy objects.
"Dad, why do we have to go to the town center each week? It is a beautiful day. Why can't we just skip this week and go fishing instead?" Owen bent down to pick up a rock. He took aim and threw it into a hole in a nearby tree, then quickly limped forward to catch up with his dad.
The man chuckled. "I understand your frustration, Son. Someday you will understand why we do things this way. Believe me; it is better than it used to be. When I was young, people actually had to work hard for the things they owned, and many people still had more than others. And then there was the crime. I remember hearing police sirens during the middle of the day, chasing down men who had actually stolen from someone else. Do you even know what police sirens sound like?" Owen shook his head and his dad continued.
"However, when the Council took charge and started divvying up what people had, soon there was nothing to steal. No one went without food or clothing. We began living in a little utopia. Of course," the man said, looking down at his son, "that was not the only crime that the police needed to monitor for our own protection. People would break contracts with others, they would be unfaithful in their marriages…they would even murder. But then the Council began making more laws. Rules that helped clarify the foundational laws—to make it easier to know exactly what is expected of us. That way, it is impossible to break any of the original ten--our consciences were truly set free. We don't have to worry about hurting ourselves or others. Life can be perfect."
Owen nodded his head in understanding. "That sounds like an awful way to grow up, Dad. I'm glad I don't live back then. But it is sure hard to remember all of these laws," he remarked, pointing at the book in his father's hands.
"It can be, Son, but you must try to do your best. Soon you will reach the age of accountability, and then you will be subject to the laws as I am. I could not bear to lose you because of ignorance." He stopped to ruffle his son's hair in a fond gesture all too familiar to Owen, then quickened his pace to make up for lost time--his eyes cast to the ground to avoid the appearance of being disrespectful.
Following in his father's shadow, the boy pondered what he'd been told. "Is that why I can't walk over there?" he asked, pointing to the other sidewalk.
His father nodded. "Yep. The Council thought it would be wise to keep males and females separated in public, except during arranged courtships, to avoid all impropriety. The divorce rate plummeted. Of course, then they outlawed divorce…" his voice drifted off as his tone implied the obvious necessity of that action.
Their conversation ended as they entered into the busy town square. Owen's father led him to his community waiting line and they took their place behind a portly gentleman with no hair. The odor coming from the man's clothes tested Owen's gag reflex and he quickly moved to bury his face in his father's leg to avoid the smell.
"Dad, why do we have to wait in this line?" he asked, his voice muffled.
"This was the job I was assigned, Son. You know that. Even if I wanted to move over to the doctor's line or the pilot's line, I cannot. I am an assemblyman. This is where the Council told me I was needed, and it is my job to serve where they think it is best. It keeps society running smoothly and helps stop coveting." He leaned down with a mischievous grin and whispered in his son's ear, "You're just going to have to hold your nose."
Owen smiled back.
Soon the line moved and the man in front of them went forward through the tent door. When he exited, Owen's father grabbed his hand and they went through the opening together. Why they kept the machine inside a tent, Owen would never know, but he watched as his father put his card in and removed it. The numbers on the screen read: 2635. Then he was asked to input the number of people in his family. His dad entered "six", and reinserted his card. The numbers on the screen read: 832. Owen's father sighed, and then pulled him out of the tent.
On their way out of town, the man stopped at a plaque outside of the courthouse. "Here, Son. These are the original ten laws."
The boy stood on his tiptoes and studied the plaque. The rules seemed so simple and yet they encompassed much of what the Council had been trying to create.
As the pair admired the minimalism of the ten laws with an almost wistful air, they were approached by an officer. The man in green was easily twice Owen's father's size, and his face carried a look of grim determination. "Sir, I'm afraid you are breaking law number 1531."
Owen's father looked surprised, and a little fearful. "I'm sorry, officer, but I am unfamiliar with that law. Last I checked there were only 1529 laws. Can you please explain it to me?"
The officer's eyes narrowed as he growled out his recitation. "The law clearly states that 'it is forbidden to wear red on Fridays during the weekly division of profits.' The law was put into place because people were complaining that the red made them think of blood, which naturally led to thoughts of violence, causing some people to want to commit murder. It was obviously necessary to keep people from committing such a grievous error and yet you flaunt a shirt with a red stripe right down the middle!"
Owen's heart froze. He looked up to see his father's face drain of color, leaving his skin with an almost greenish tint. "Officer, I was completely unaware of that law. I will hurry home now and change."
"I'm afraid that ignorance of the law is no excuse. It has been in effect for a full 48 hours now, plenty of time for you to have checked the wire for updates." Turning to Owen, the officer waved his hand, gesturing off to the walkway. "Run along, boy. Punishment must be swift to avoid any followers of such foolishness. Step aside."
Owen stared into his father's eyes in despair, tears pooling in his lower lids. He could hear the officer calling for retribution, but the words did not register. He wanted to run to his father, to hug him, to tell him that he loved him, but the circle had already begun to form, blocking him out. Owen was pushed off to the side as the crowd of men demanding justice grew—they had to follow the law as well.
Through the chaos around him, Owen remained focused on his father's face. As is often the case during times of great stress, all confusion falls to the wayside and one is left with clarity. Owen's father found that clarity, and before Owen's eyes, he changed. His once humbled father stood tall; his shoulders back and his chest out. He was filled with an inner strength that his son had never seen before. Owen was filled with pride as he watched his dad brave the unknown, not as a coward, but as a hero.
Maintaining eye contact, Owen's father imparted his final revelation to his son; imprinting the words on his heart forever:
"I was wrong, Son...this is not perfection. God gave us free will. Man took it away."
And then the first stone flew.
A/N: This is my piece for the July WCC. This month's prompt is a picture prompt found at: www. flickr .com/photos/aharrup/4722577268/sizes/l/ . If you liked it, please vote for it between July 8-15th at: Forums/General/Review Game/Writing Challenge Contest (www. fictionpress .com/topic/1867/726853/19/). Thanks for reading!