The food was fantastic.
It was late at night and I was sitting in a fancy restaurant for the first time in years across from a woman, also for the first time in years.
I, Geoffrey Poland, great detective extraordinaire, was happy. I looked around me in a daze of pleasure at the other diners in the restaurant and smiled. They all looked so straight and rigid. They should learn to relax more.
Wait. She was talking. The woman across from me was talking! I couldn't pay attention to her; the music being played in the background was distracting me. It had a catchy tune.
"Are you listening to me?"
I forcefully turned my attention back to the woman. "Pardon?" I asked innocently, flashing what I hoped was a charming smile.
My date glared, obviously not happy. "I said, 'If you are not going to even try to be part of this date, I'm leaving and telling the Board.'"
I gulped. I already had one strike against the Board and if I got too many of them, I could lose dating rights altogether. That would mean no more going out to places like this.
I took another gulp of wine and smiled. "Sorry. I will try harder to pay more attention to both you and the meal."
She seemed to relax a bit. "Thank you."
I nodded. "After all, it's not often I get to eat food this nice."
Her face contorted in anger and I suddenly found my face dripping with the contents of her wineglass.
"The Board will definitely hear about you!" Saying that, the skirt stood up and left the restaurant in a huff.
I sighed. So much for attempting the married life again. Though it would most likely not be very pleasant. Marriages were just a reason to stay near someone. The schedules changed very little; The couple worked throughout the day and met at night for the sole purpose of carrying on the bloodline. No talking, no getting to know each other, and no fun. Well, not really.
I wiped the wine from my face and looked down at the scattering of food on the table. At least, with her gone there would be more for me to eat. Everything has its perks.
I picked up my silverware and helped myself to what was left of a romantic meal.
After dinner (which still tasted delicious without female accompaniment), I started home to my shabby apartment. The air was chill and dotted with snowflakes as the year was winding down so the streets were mostly empty. I was all alone but for my thoughts. As usual.
My life ran like clockwork. Nothing went horribly wrong, nor pleasantly well. Everything was planned in my life by some higher being, be it a god or a superior. I had no time in life to look around me and take it all in. No time to just enjoy life to it's fullest. No time to live life.
I grimly looked at the grey surroundings and sighed. Everything in this damn city worked smoothly. No problems. The government always worked properly, companies always made perfect products, the streets were always kept clean. Everything, even the falling snow, seemed to follow a perfect plan. I watched a lone snowflake drop past my face and fall lightly onto the sidewalk. It vanished almost instantly leaving only a small, imperceptible wet mark. Yes, even the snow followed a plan. Nothing was messy or unpleasing. All was right in this city. Why then was I so unhappy? I lived my live like all of the other people here. I ate, slept, and worked. I followed my schedule. According to the city, I should have been living on cloud nine. But I was not. I was depressed beyond words. My life was missing something that I could not find. Something that I did not know.
In the company of others, I was the carefree scoundrel who never blinked an eye at doing my job, at following my orders, and at being unbelievably insulting. I was a good guy. The model man. Alone, my mind would wander and wonder. I thought what was deemed 'Thoughtcrime.' Thoughts that went against the common good of society. Thoughts that went against all that those on the Board stood for.
Whether I liked it or not, Jerome Harvey had had a profound impact upon my life.
A few weeks ago I had been given the task of tracking a Schedule Skipper named Jerome Harvey. This man had committed the ultimate crime: disobeying the Board. He had stopped following his schedule. He had to be caught and punished. I caught him and brought him to justice. I had seen the man screaming for me to help him as he was dragged off by bailiffs to be reformed but I had done enough as it was. I had caught him and had given him the chance to become a proud, working, and productive member of the city again. I had done my job.
Yet thoughts still lingered in my mind that I could not explain. They were wrong thoughts according to the Board; thoughts of impurity and selfishness. Thoughts that merited reforment should anyone have found out about them.
Harvey had skipped his schedule, but I still had no idea as to why. Why would a man like him- married, working, well-mannered- decide to just get up and leave society? What could cause someone to do such a thing? Just thinking of skipping would get a person at the very least a session with the Department of Sanity, at worst, reforment.
There was that word again. Reforment. What it was nobody knew. It was just one of those things that everyone learned to fear, like the monster under a child's bed- it was unseen and unheard, but it was there waiting for one wrong move. The threat of reforment hung over everyone's head like that monster and people just learned to deal with the fact that it was alive and feeding off of the imperfections of the citizenry. Do well at your job and don't complain, that was the way to live a long and happy life.
As I walked, a truck with city markings on it roared past me headed down the road. The Thought Police. I shuddered, not from the midnight cold, but from the thought of those men in full body armour hefting guns around and dragging off unsuspecting people who committed the most evil of crimes.
I had once seen a colleague arrested by those mysterious guards, years ago. It had been when I was still working with the main police force under the horrible gaze of the Chief. I have hated him for a long time, since before then, and that hatred had only intensified under his command. Anyway, I had been sitting at my desk filling out reports when the door was torn open and in came a half dozen armed troopers. They had headed straight for me and, just when I expected to be dragged from the room, they passed and picked up the man in the desk next to me. They had left with the man and I had never seen him after. It had been generally assumed by the force that the man had done something that he had kept secret even from us, his closest colleagues, but there was no hiding from the Thought Police; They knew all and saw all.
And yet just now they had gone right past me. If they truly did know all, then I should be looking at a squad of troopers right now. Maybe they were human after all.
My thoughts were then interrupted by the sound of a car approaching very fast. I looked down the street to see the car speeding down the road. I nearly laughed out of sheer joy. Speed limits were controlled by the Board, and no one fearing reforment dared to ignore them. It was probably some old man, out on an evening drive; the elderly were sometimes a problem following the laws unlike the ideal youths. This man obviously had no fear. This man was breaking a Law. This man had no restraints. I looked the opposite way to see where this free lunatic was headed and cried out at what I saw. There, in the middle of the street, was a girl. She stood calmly, gazing quietly at the oncoming car.
I looked back to the car and quickly made up my mind.
"Hey!" I called out, waving my arms at the girl. "Look out!"
I started walking faster and headed for the girl. She did not look at me or answer my call. She just stood and stared. I looked again, over my shoulder, to the oncoming car. It was uncomfortably close.
By this time I was running and shouting at the girl. I closed in on her seconds before the car was upon us. Tackling her, we fell to the ground out of the deadly path of the car.
I looked back at the car as it rushed past us and, for a second, time seemed to slow down. For an instant, the driver's face could be seen through the window. To my horror, I had seen that same squirrelly, spectacled face before, only this time it had a horrible look to it. The look of madness.
I blinked and the instant was over, the car had gone. The girl and I were the only evidence of its passage.
I looked down at the girl held in my arms.
"Are you alright?" I asked.
She nodded shakily, her brown hair shaking slightly. I held her arm and helped her to her feet. "Are you sure?" I asked.
Again she nodded. "Yes, thank you." She whispered. I had to strain to hear her voice she spoke so softly. She must have been in shock.
I looked the girl over for any obvious injuries and for the first time noticed what she was wearing.
Now covered in the invisible dirt and grime of the roads, her knee length dress was bright red. I blinked. I had never seen anything like it before. Everyone I had ever seen in my life wore nothing but dark colours. Black and grey were common. The dress, even smeared, looked oddly- painfully- beautiful to my eyes. Such contrast to the world around her was startling.
I tore my eyes away from her dress and looked to her face. Her head was hung, brown hair falling down over her face, hiding it from my view.
My mind started working again and anger rose in my throat. "What the hell were you doing standing in the middle of the road?!" I shouted at her.
She shrugged and I continued. "You could have been killed! What were you thinking?! Do you want to die!"
For the first time, she looked me straight in the eye. Her hair fell away as her face rose to reveal perfectly white skin on a perfectly formed face. Her deep green eyes looked as if they were trying to bore into my very soul.
"Perhaps." She said softly.
My mind reeled. Why on Earth would you want to kill yourself? What was the point? If you were dead, you could not live as a productive member of society. Your very existence would have been a drain on society if you killed yourself. What was the point?
"What do you mean 'perhaps'?" I shouted, "You wanted to be killed by that car?"
"What do you care what I want?" Her voice was still no more than a whisper and yet it held such anger in it that I was taken aback by her quiet ferociousness. Something about this girl was alluring. I did not know whether it was her abnormal dress, her desire for death, or her oddly inflected voice but this girl was something new. Something I had never seen before. Something different. Something... intriguing.
I shook my head. "Why don't you go home?" I asked. "A least there you have no chance of being run over."
The girl smiled grimly. "What would stop me from just doing this again once you were gone?"
Damn. She must have really had a death wish. If I left and she died, her life would have been hanging on my conscience for the rest of my life.
Looking back, my life would have had a very different outcome had I just left her on the side of the street. Unfortunately, in those radiant green eyes of hers, I saw something more than defiance of the norm. I saw fear. The fear of death and the unknown. The fear that can bring pity to any man's heart. Damn.
I sighed. "Come on. I'll take you for a drink. Maybe you can tell me why you want to die so much."
The girl deftly brushed her dress off and slipped her arm around mine. "Lead the way," she said.
And I did.
I led the girl to a small pub several blocks down from where I had had my disastrous yet tasty dinner. She found a table while I ordered some drinks. I came back and looked into her face and waited for her to begin her story. She looked into mine and seemed content to leave it at that.
I decided to push her a bit.
"So," I said, "What's your name?" That's it. Start small and work up.
She started to answer but then seemed to notice the drinks between us. She took her glass to her mouth and finished the entire thing in one sip. I could feel my mouth fall open in astonishment. That was the last thing I had expected her to do.
She slammed her glass down onto the table and suddenly seemed willing to talk.
"I'm Elizabeth Forsyth." She said, smiling widely.
I nodded. "Geoffrey Poland."
She brought her hand across the table and offered it to me. She clasped my hand like a vice and shook it roughly.
"Pleased to meet you, Geoffrey," she said amiably. "So why were you out tonight?"
I took a sip of my drink and answered. "I was on a date."
Elizabeth leaned forward conspiratorially. "Did it go well?"
"That depends on what you mean by 'well'."
"Not good, huh?"
"She walked out leaving me to finish dinner by myself."
The girl tilted her head slightly to one side. "Was the food good?"
I sipped my drink again and replied, "Delicious," with a slight smile.
Miss Forsyth perked up. "Well, at least the night wasn't a whole loss!" She laughed.
Her laugh, like the rest of this girl, amazed me. It was so unlike normal. Instead of what one would expect from a small, thin girl, i.e. a delicate giggle, Elizabeth laughed with her entire body. The laugh starting somewhere deep in her gut and exploding out from there. The force from this devastating laugh stunned me for a moment before I, too, laughed.
"That's true. Very true." I said when we had finished disturbing the other patrons of the pub.
She calmed down and placed her chin into her hands. "So, Geoffrey, tell me about yourself."
I could only oblige.
The night passed quickly as we talked and before we knew it, we could see the first rays of morning shining through the darkened glass of the pub.
"Bugger," I muttered, seeing the light. "I should have been home hours ago." I looked over to my visibly tired young companion. "Shall we go?"
She looked around, saw that the pub was empty, and yawned. Rubbing her eyes, she nodded.
I helped her out of the chair and led her to the street. "Can you make your way home?"
Miss Forsyth shrugged.
I sighed. "Ok, I'll help you home. Where do you live?"
She mumbled something and I strained to hear. "What was that?" I asked.
"I don't have a home," she said, this time clearly and looked into my face pleadingly, her lovely green eyes crying silently for help and understanding.
Again I sighed. "Alright. Come on, you can sleep at my place."
I put my arm around her shoulders and we started off down the street.
I practically had to carry Miss Forsyth up the stairs of my building, she was so tired. When we reached my door, I fumbled for the keys while simultaneously trying not to disturb the girl too much. Take my word for it, this was no easy task. Finally the door was flung open and I carried her in, through the main room and into the depressing bedroom. I placed her as delicately as I could on the bed and pulled a sheet over her.
Looking down at Elizabeth's slumbering body, I couldn't help but wonder where she came from, dressed the way she dressed and acting the way she acted. The girl was so unusual. Yet it was that very unusuality that I found so alluring. Elizabeth Forsyth was by far the most intriguing and beautiful thing I had ever met. And here she was, sleeping soundly in my bed. I wondered briefly what Fate had in store for me.
I broke from my enchantment and quietly left the room. Walking into the bathroom, I splashed water on my face to cleanse myself of the pub's intricate mix of odours. I then sat heavily down in my desk chair and suddenly felt the pressures of a sleepless night weigh down on me. I closed my eyes and was asleep.