Kayla Chamberlain

Walking up the busy street of young, tired faces, moving briskly in the early evening haze, Evelynn Pawel tottered hastily along. She was carrying a heavy cardboard box, bound with twine, in her age spotted hands, and it would hit the side of her right shin with each step she took. Very little bother came from this however, at least none that she dared show. She pushed on, following the crowd up the hilly sidewalk, back towards the main avenue, putting as much distance between her and the Finalities Office as her ninety-two-year-old bones were able.

Though it was a great burden on her, she tried to hide the reality of the box’s strain from those around her. But as the sidewalk inclined, her composure abandoned that reasoning, and with its descent, brought down a hailstorm of disapproving eyes, which were not inclined to withhold their accompanying sneers. She is a burden; their glares spoke to her. She is no longer necessary, simply an unwanted mouth to feed. Selfish. No one stops to help her, no one even considers offering.

For all to see, floating above her left shoulder, beneath her name, age, and citizen ID, was the fuel for their resentment. It was the credit count that she possessed, which was the largest number on display. The deciding factor of this world for how long one’s lifespan could last, was all determined by the Life Credits system, and though she may have once had an average credit-count, her long lifespan was the result of becoming a widow on two separate occasions, with both spouses bequeathing their remaining credits to her. They both died at a young age, and because of that she had unwillingly gained a greater number of years in credits than she could ever hope to spend in a single lifetime.

As all eyes seemed to target her, she fixated her gaze on the ground before her, but her racing thoughts distracted her eyes, and it was too late to avoid tripping over the sudden raised pavement. Her vice grip on the box was released, and she flung both arms before herself to brace for the impact.

Seeing the tear in her stockings, was like traveling back in time to a memory-very distant but still vivid-of a young woman, a younger version of herself she realized, who had tripped while dancing in the rain on an early evening many years before. That evening had no smoky haze, the skies then shimmered with silver clouds and sprinkling rain. At that time, she recalled, there was a hand extended towards her when she had looked up from her scraped knee, and an amused, yet equally concerned, smile kindled with it.

Of course, in her present situation, no hand was extended before her. The risk of social suicide is not the choice of many, and in this situation, aiding an Elder, is of the same likeness as declaring your own readiness to die. Luckily for them, Evelynn often thought to herself in situations such as this, There aren’t many people my age around anymore to bring them such unease.

Using her box for support, she heaved herself back to her feet, her arched spine popping as it made the effort of reverting to a somewhat straight posture. Her stocking would need to be replaced, but apart from that, surprisingly, her injuries felt very minimal. She brushed her coat and skirt over, and continued onward, all the way to the top of the hill.

Once she had summited, she turned back to look out over the city that she had spent so many years of her life in. Those memories, seemed to belong in a different world, because the current one felt far too strange. Where skyscrapers once threatened to puncture the atmosphere, now tall smoke stacks bellowed over the horizon. Cobbled roads held hieroglyphs of people in wheeled chairs, and faded lines -a sight she hadn’t seen in many years. In the restoration after the Great War, or rather The Decline, as it was proposedly named in the shambled courts of this world some forty years prior, many new views were adopted to bring the world back from its state of near destruction. Repairs were minimalized, and instead, the focus was made on making use of what was already available, rather than pursuing innovation.

Near to where she stood, a bench was poorly constructed at the edge of the street, and above it was an old sign indicating that it was for a bus. The sign had taken quite a beating, and it hung sideways, rocking back and forth in the chilly breeze. She waited well over an hour for the bus, many transports had passed her already, but most had age limits she had surpassed decades before. Finally, a bus arrived, the last of that nights run. On its side, just as it was with all the other busses that had come by, the Latin phrase “MEMENTO MORI” flashed rhythmically between that and its English counterpart, “REMEMBER THAT YOU MUST DIE”. It was the anthem of this new world, where one must always be aware of the life they are living, for it will end regardless. The young are encouraged to live fiercely, while the old are to be shamed for living longer than it is believed they should.

The door opened, and she stepped on the bus, but before her aching joints could relish in the heated comfort that had rushed over her, the driver stretched out his arm to bring her attention to the sign just inside the door, set low to the ground. She squinted at first, but did not have to bother making out the rest of its message before she recognized the words proclaiming that her age made her a liability for the bus to carry her. Neither her “Excuse me”, nor “Thank you” were reciprocated by the driver as she stepped back out into the cold, now very dark, night.

Exhausted, she was contemplating attempting to walk the distance out of the city, when an old taxicab pulled up beside her. At first, she believed they were simply there because they were awaiting a client, or perhaps someone inside the tinted windows was taking their time in exiting the vehicle, but after a moment of neither her nor the cab showing any sign of movement, she decidedly reached for the passenger door, heaving the box to a halt before it could slam the side of the car. The handle didn’t budge. But then, the window rolled down, releasing a great puff of smoke, and the words “Too. Old.” flatly uttered behind it.  The air hadn’t even cleared when Evelynn shot back as fast as should could with the question, “Your rates, please?”

“Ay, lady look, I’m not supposed ta take your age,” said muttered behind a quick drag on his cigarette. “But, I sees ya numbers, and I gotta say, that’s one crazy credit count you got,” the cab driver finished with a dragging lull to his words. She wasn’t surprised that that was his reason for stopping, it was a similar situation that had gotten her into the city after all, but the uncertainty lies with how to respond in a situation such as this. He either simply wished to admire her impressive number of life credits, or he hoped desperately to cut a deal of some sort. Most likely she knew of course, it would be the latter reason.

“Look lady, your age is-” he tried to counter, but she had already silenced him before his sentence was finished, “I’ll transfer tenfold the rate into your own credit span.” The driver gawked, having never heard such an offer in all his life, and quickly accepted it.

The door opened on its own, and after pushing the heavy box onto the seat beside her. Evelynn slid in herself, slowly setting one tired leg down gently, hoping to spare her hips as much pain as she could. She gave the driver an address to a place she had never been. It was attached to the box with instructions to her new home. A place far, far away from the city.

As they drove on, until at last the lights of the city grew dim into a faint gleam skirting the horizon she was leaving behind, finally, she exhaled a long, tired sigh. Leaning back, she glanced as the meter ran on, and then rested her gaze at the palm of her hand. Slowly, the numbers on her palm, the same projected above her left shoulder, declined into such low digits, she had forgotten such small numbers even existed. A faint smile pulled at her thin lips, and she closed her eyes, feeling much more alive than she had in ages.

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