Men’s Generation

I started writing this short novel in June 2014 with the intent of trying to built my own dystopian society. It’s not complete, but i decided to post it anyway. It is originally written in English, but I’ll post also the italian version of it, for those who don’t speak English.

ONE

In my time the word family doesn’t mean much. At least not what it meant long time ago, in a traditional sense: a mother, a father and children, mostly biologically related.

I’m the result of a biological alchemy, sure, but I do not know my biological mother, and I do not know my biological father.

No, I haven’t been abandoned. I was torn out of the loins of my mother, and I was brought into the world after my biological mother had been inseminated with the sperm of a man whom, like me, she has never known. Then I’ve been handed over to the lovely care of the Centre.

In my society children don’t get to know who their biological parents are, whether they have siblings, or who they are.

The so called “blood ties” are just a distant memory. That’s a good thing if the intent is avoiding nepotism!

Today it’s my thirteenth birthday, few months away from my apprenticeship and from the test that will decide my future.

I’m sitting at the table onto which a magnificent breakfast has being laid before me: pancakes soaked with Acacia-blossom honey, dried fruits and rose-flavoured tea, my favourite.

Roses are my passion. They have an intoxicating, sweet scent that reminds me of my mom. Yes, my biological mother. My true mother. It cannot be otherwise. I have learned in school smell is the most archaic sense of all, linked to memories like no others. The fact I like it so much that I’m sure it can only mean I have smelled it on her, in those frantic moments while she was giving birth, the only time ever we were close. I believe I have loved it ever since.

“Julian, hurry up! You’ll be late!”

There she is! My mommy, my foster mother: Dolores Wonder. One of the foster mothers of the Department Of Birth.

“Do not worry, Dolores,” I say calmly. “Today is my birthday. I can be late!”

That’s right. This day, of all days, is the most sacred day of the year for every youngster. I could actually be late or skip school if I wanted to, and no one will say or do a thing. I’ve never done it before, but my classmates have gambled I won’t show up this year, for this is my last year in school. I should give them the chance to be right and play truant just for once! Maybe I’ll take a tour to the garden of roses.

Just the thought of it brings me back to all those nights I have spent trying to outline the contour of my mother’s features in the dark: the curve of her eyebrows, the shape of her lips, the line of her nose, her lovely face, and imagining the colour of her hair or of her eyes with such meticulousness!

“Tell me you’re not thinking what I think you’re thinking!” says Dolores glaring at me, arm on her hips, while I stare into the void.

“What am I thinking?” I reply, pretending I’m shaken.

“To skip school! Am I right?”

“I have to say it’s a thought that has crossed my mind!” I feign interest and start to wonder.

“And…?”

“And it would be really nice, I admit it.” Finally I say, a smile spreading widely over my lips.

“But…?”

“But I think I’m not. Thank you for asking.” I comment, serious this time.

“I need not to remind you that becoming a Diplomat is a serious matter, do I? And missing class won’t do any good to your future career. Diplomats must have an impeccable past!”

“I know, Dolores, I know.” I say soothing my voice.

She seems to be relieved, reassured by my words. But then a flash of wariness flicks in her eyes. “Soon Berenice will be here.”

Dolores looks intently at me and I know exactly what she means.

I dig in my breakfast and devour everything is in front of me. This kind of food isn’t something which we ordinarily have access to, or as easily for the matter, neither by quantity!

Resources are very carefully managed after The Great Conflict.

But today is my birthday and I can eat whatever I wish, how much I wish, and in my rooms, instead of the crowded hall where I usually consume my meals, together with the other youngster that live here at the DOB.

“Hi, everyone! What a lovely smell! Are these your renowned pancakes, Dolores?” Berenice Dawn is here. She is a cute girl, skinny and short, with black hair and bright eyes that seem to dart from side to side in fear of missing something important. The way she walks, trotting around with guarded eyes, make her resemble an elf.

She will be Dolores apprentice for the next year and will be learning from her experience gained in years of work at the Department. For this reason Berenice is going to spend many hours with us every day.

“Will you teach me how to make them? It will be of use, right?”

“Sure thing, like everything else I’ll teach you.” She says with all the warmth she can muster, though it touches only her lips, not her eyes.

This is the second week she’s been with us. She seems to be smart and easy going and I like her, but I have a feeling Dolores doesn’t. I can’t imagine the reason why. Whenever she is around she is tense and suspicious, and answers her every question with shrewdness.

“How long have you been working here, Dolores?”

“I started when I just turned 26. It seemed to me I was ready to be a mom.” Her tone gets an edge of sour irony.

“How many did you have?”

“Seven.” She spits out the number like a spurt of venom.

Listening as they chat, I notice her distant look. Is she thinking of them? Is that the reason why she came to work here? The one thing I know for sure is she, like anyone working here, will not make up for a new life with a man. And as the ancient Roman priestesses of the temple of Vesta, she’ll live a life of celibacy under pain of exile.

“You’ve been here seven times and still have decided to come and live here?”

“I don’t think I’ll ever have anything to offer to a man. The sole love I have is for the younger generations. The future doesn’t hold anything else for me.”

The resignation in her voice is crystal clear, though doesn’t suit her. She won’t fool me. I know her as a strong, determined woman, and seeing her so tamed, when she answers Berenice’s questions, tells me she is way too suspicious. Of what?

“Sorry to interrupt you, ladies! Should your intention be to taste my delicacies, I’m happy to inform you it’s all gone! The good news is… you may take the chance to make more! I’d be delighted to find more back from school.”

I get up from my seat, pass in front of Dolores, who stands next to the door to the kitchen, and skim my hand across hers to silently thank her.

Her look sinks into my eyes and an immeasurable gentleness seeps through, but she doesn’t dare to follow suit and stands still. I read relief in her eyes for my breaking up the questioning though.

I feel the urge to hug her, as we do at night, when she sits on my bed, tucks me up and wishes me good night before I fall asleep. Unfortunately I’m not allowed to have physical contact so obvious, especially not in public, and I suppose Berenice is a public to whom Dolores is pretty much prone to avoid showing whatever intimacy we might have.

I leave the DOB trotting happily down the stairs towards the school. Mindful of Dolores’s words, I walk at a brisk pace along the avenue that leads to the imposing building and that brings farther on till the Centre of Dismissed.

There live the elderly people who have retired from work and therefore have been relieved of any kind of activity. They spend their days as they wish, without any obligation to the society that now totally takes care of them, as a reward for having done the assigned task during life with dedication and without having fallen into disgrace. Most of them resume reading, something that had been given up because it wasn’t allowed once they had left school and during the whole adult age.

Indeed student are allowed to read books, but not whatever subject they wish. Books are wisely and meticulously chosen by Diplomats.

To everyone else are prohibited readings of any kind, if not strictly related to their own professions and every choice is registered in the personal file for further inspection.

In the Central Library has been stored the most complete collection of all sorts of books in digital format, saved from the rage of The Great Conflict, who deals with topics of all kinds. The only ones, who have unlimited access, are the three castes of men: Diplomat, Guardians, and Clericals.

“It’s not fair! I bet two whole months of table serving at the canteen! And because of your inability to stay away from school, even not on the day of your last birthday as a student, it falls to me to work!”

“Good morning to you, too!”

“Did you hear what I said?”

“I heard, and I think you shouldn’t have bet if you weren’t prepared to accept the chance of losing!”

I look at Benjamin, my best friend, pouting. If it weren’t that blood ties have been abolished since long, for obvious reasons, even before we were born, I would say that he is the closest thing to a brother I’ve ever experienced.

In vane I suppress a chuckle that instead escapes my lips. He’s still out of breath for having run helter-skelter down the stairs, trying to catch up with me, and not only to give me his lecture, or because he’s late for school and it’s not his birthday.

“Have you decided what to do?”

There he goes! I look at him as if I don’t understand the question and turn to continue to walk.

“Do not ignore me!”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about!” I then stop and say.

“You know exactly what I’m referring to.”

I’m impressed by his anger and, as I try to resume walking and pretend I don’t hear him, he bursts out laud.

“You have decided, haven’t you? You just don’t have the guts to tell me, right?”

“Stop wasting time or you’ll be late. Later than it is, already!”

“Come on, won’t you tell me? Have you decided?” his voice pleading now.

During the last class of Social Education, we examined the role of the three castes, specific duties and differences, typical days, rules and behaviours of each rank.

That same day, on the way back to DOB, Benjamin and I talked about it, as we do when we find a topic of extreme interest, and he confessed me he has no ambition to become a Diplomat, nor a Guardian or a Clerical, but he certainly knows he wouldn’t want to be deprived of the privileges the castes are entitled to. Therefore he is well aware of the problems he has following the rules, thanks to his rebellious nature, and he’s afraid I will chose one of them and part with him for good.

“No. I haven’t decided yet. We still have time. And do not forget that anyway we have to pass the test!”

“I have not forgotten! But you do not forget of me!”

I stare at him seriously and shake my head. Then I grab his hand and make for the school building running and dragging my friend behind me as I go.

The door is still open. We file through it, still running hand in hand, one after the other, and eventually we are in front of the class closed door panting heavily and with our hearts in our throats.

I finally leave his hand and, with a rapid gesture, straighten my tousled hair. I deeply breathe in to calm myself, and then I catch my breath and knock on the door.

The class is quiet listening to Mr Drummer who barely acknowledged me as I enter the room and sit at my desk.  

Benjamin follows my steps and is just about to sit when Mr Drummer shouts.

“Not so fast, Mr Benjamin! You are late, and it’s not your birthday today. Am I wrong?”

“Absolutely not, Mr Drummer,” I say “but I asked him to join me for breakfast. Dolores’s pancakes are legendary…”

“Dolores’s pancakes?” says our teacher forcing down a gulp. “I remember them…”

“Yes, Sir. Exactly.” I push further hoping to change the subject.

“Served with Orange Blossom honey, my favourite.” He takes another gulp as if he is savouring the taste right here and now, as his mouth is watering.

“I should report you, Mr Benjamin, you know?”

My friend is about to say something, and I anticipate him. Knowing him the way I do, I’m sure it won’t be anything pleasant so I force myself and push my luck keeping up speaking.

“Sure I am to be reported as well, Sir, since it was me who convinced him to stay for breakfast.” My words escape my mouth without me being totally aware of them and I think I’ll be in trouble if Dolores ever found out what I just did!

“I don’t know. The manual is clear: you are not to blame for today is your birthday, Mr Julian… but I’m not sure the same is intended for you!” He says pointing his index finger and addressing his comment to Benjamin with unconcealed anger.

Everybody is alarmed and sits darting quick looks at one another, trying to predict what will happen next.

“I guess your birthday is a good excuse, then. Though if it’s really so that you are the cause of Mr Benjamin’s delay…” Mr Drummer ventures, looking at me cautiously.

I eye Benjamin alerted by the implication the teacher is trying to make. Is he trying to save Benjamin or to punish me for being bold attempting to excuse him?

I acted in the wake of instinct and Dolores will never forgive me if… I don’t even want to think about it!

The silence sets down like a heavy mist that no one dares to break.

I’m not sure what to make of it. Two options are equally possible: either Mr Drummer is afraid of losing respect and authority for not reporting Benjamin, or he thinks instead he’ll get a reprimand for reporting me on my birthday day.

Suddenly Mr Drummer seems to have solved whatever debate was going on inside his head.

“This will be the one and only time I accept such an infringement.” Finally he clarifies. “And I won’t allow any of you – he says pointing again his index finger but this time to each student of the class – to make me confront with such a situation one more time.”

And with that Mr Drummer goes back to the lesson and we all consider the matter a closed case.

***

“How many times do I have to tell you not to make yourself conspicuous?” Dolores is furious for my bravado.

“I understand your concern, Dolores. But, really, nothing happened!”

“You cannot let anything stand between yourself and the bright future ahead of you! You’ll ruin everything! Do you understand?” she’s hissing even if we’re alone in my room. I’m sure if we were in another place, safer than this, she would be screaming her lungs out.

“I sure do!” I state out of boredom. I don’t understand her worries. I was not reported, no one was! So, why is she so upset? The more I think about it and the more I believe that there is more to the picture than meets the eye.

“I see you’re not taking it seriously at all! Promise me you won’t ever do anything like this again. Promise!”

“I promise,” I say solemnly “Never again!”

Dolores looks at me suspiciously. I must have given in too easily. I’m not sure I am going to keep my promise, but I’ll certainly make sure she never finds out ever again. She cannot control my life like she is doing right now.

Soon enough I’ll be free from her supervision and I’ll move to another Compound where the youngster, who have completed their education, go.

My life is about to change dramatically in less than three months. I will leave my “home”, my friends, or at least half of them, and start to make projects for my future. And I will need to choose my last name. I frankly thought I should pay my dues to Dolores and take her surname out of gratitude, but after all those nights spent dreaming of my mother I’m convinced I’ll take Rosebuds. Julian Rosebuds. It sounds like me.

I’m ready to leave, I think. I feel strong enough to be on my own, but the thought of leaving Dolores for good is something I’m not quite ready for. The only thought is somehow disturbing. With her around I feel safe, protected, even if sometimes she is extremely anxious.

“Did you take your pill,” she whispers coming close “Do not forget! It’s important to take it everyday! Or you might slow down the process!”

“Not yet, I was just about to take it.”

I go to the cabinet where I keep my clean clothes. In a hiding-place, behind a panel on the right, a little brown bottle with twenty-five round red pills is concealed. I gulp one down right away, and wonder what the pill is really for. Dolores tells me it’s an experimental treatment and I am not to tell any living soul about it.

I have tried to cautiously question my friends, but so far I haven’t been able to succeed in discovering any kind of information. Either they are also bound to secrecy or they are not privy of such treatment.

“Can you once again tell me what are these pills for?” I probe her.

“We should talk about it.” She speaks slowly and then exhales a resigned sigh, as she has been waiting for this question for too long.

“We should?”

“Yes, but not now.”

“When, then?”

“I would need to talk to someone before I tell you more about those pills.”

“Who?” My curiosity burns inside me instantly.

“Not yet, my little one. Sleep now. Soon you’ll know everything. It’s all about time.”

She kisses my forehead, tucks me in, and leaves me wondering alone in the dark.

After some time, I cannot estimate how long but I’m sure it must be quite late because all the lights are off and no sounds come from the corridor, I’m still staring at the ceiling with wide eyes.

I can’t sleep. No big news! I’m getting used to this sleeplessness. It’s been part of my nightlife for fairly too long. And my only companion in these events is the thought of her. The one single thought that’s always present in my head: my mother. Where is she? What is she doing? Where does she live? Does she think of me sometimes? How many children has she mothered? Do I know any of them?

The more I think of her, the more the sleep eludes me.

And as this wasn’t enough, tonight I have an additional item to worry about.

My mind runs in every direction to find answers I can’t figure out, to question I’m not allowed to ask.

What?

Who?

Why?

Suddenly I hear her voice. I get up from my bed and follow it through the open door and find myself into another room that doesn’t resemble the less my front room.

It’s a long, narrow one with a wall of glass panels to separate it from another of approximately the same size, and big windows at the left. In both rooms a long table covered in white tiles stands in the centre and, just in front of me, a woman in a white lab coat is standing by it filling brown little bottles with red pills.

I’m at her back and the only thing I see is her blonde hair secured in a pony tail. I try to extend my arm to touch her shoulder. My arm is stretching at an impossible length. The distance between me and the woman increases as I try to reach for her. I’m not going to let her go, not now that I finally have the chance to see her face! Damn, I’m so close!

I keep stretching my limb and it’s like it doesn’t belong to me anymore. It’s a long bridge over a flowing river that runs loudly at my feet, at the bottom of a chasm. I’m standing on its edge, balancing.

The woman seems not to notice any of it and keeps doing her job at the same pace: she takes a brown little bottle, fills it with pills, sets it on the other side of the table and screws a white cap on top of it.

I want to scream so she will finally hear me and turn around. And I’ll see her face, eventually. My mouth opens, but my voice fails me. Not a sound I manage to utter!

At this point desperation creeps in on me. I’m sure that if she would turn around and look at me, I will recognise her. It’s her. It’s my mother! I know! I feel it!

I lean forward a little more. My hand is skimming her hair. I’ll soon touch her and she’ll look at me and will see me. She’ll remember me. She’ll hold me. A little more. I’m almost there!

My feet slip off the edge of the chasm and I find myself falling. I’m not scared. I’m only disappointed. I won’t see her face. I give up trying to reach her at last and let myself relax while I wait for hitting the bottom of the chasm. I’ll go in pieces. No, it’s not exactly right. I am already in pieces. So, it won’t matter.

I fall and fall and I close my eyes. It’s taking forever, but I refuse to open my eyes. I don’t want to see. If I am to die, I’ll die, but I won’t look at my head smashing on the rocks below and my brain spreading its matter all over the water surface.

Finally I touch the bottom. The dull thud of my body reaches my ears. I don’t feel pain. Not at the head, not at my chest, not at my limbs. Nowhere!

“Are you ok?” a light touch at my forehead makes me open my eyes. Dolores is bending on me while lying on the floor. She looks worried. I must have fallen off the bed.

“Dolores?” I say confused.

“At least you know who I am!” Her lips open in a wide smile.

“Yeah, at least I know who you are.” I say relieved for not being dead and frustrated because I didn’t see the face of the woman I strongly believed was my mother.

TWO

I’ve learned Doctor Marcy Pusher is the chief in charge of the lab at the Department of Health Care since twenty years and here is where all drugs is produced and packed. Nowadays most of treatments are simply remedy to light diseases.

Surgery and microsurgery are procedures largely performed to cure any kind of biological or physical problem, either simple or complex, and have reached a high level of accuracy and efficiency to have replaced any other kind of treatment.

It’s late and I have followed Dolores till here at the DOHC through the underground tunnel that connects our Department to this one.

I’m resolute. I want to know more!

After all it’s my health at stake here! And I won’t wait any longer to understand WHAT’s going on?

WHO’s deciding for me?

And most of all, WHY?

She enters the lab that is almost like the one I dreamed of. I step into a niche from where I can observe the scene without risking of being spotted.

“Dolores,” Doctor Pusher whispers surprised “what are you doing here this late?”

Though I assume the voice has been lowered not because of the late hours.

“We need to talk.”

“I’m not alone. This is not exactly the right moment.”

“It’s important.”

“I’m sure it is, nonetheless we cannot right now.”

“I’m not leaving without an answer.”

Doctor Pusher’s voice seems to be resigned when she speaks again.

“What is it that cannot wait?”

“Julian. He wants to know.”

“I haven’t figured out yet what must we tell and how much. So I wouldn’t encourage him.”

“I didn’t. Actually I’m surprised he didn’t ask earlier.”

“We must be really careful who we share our information with.”

“I know, but I believe Julian is ready for it. He’s to be trusted. I feel it.”

“You’ve been too long with him. I’m not sure I can rely on your judgement. And after all there are still three more months to go. We can wait a little more.”

“I don’t think we should, and I thought I earned your trust since long!” says Dolores piqued in a high pitch of voice.

“I’m not saying you aren’t to trust. I’m just afraid Julian might not be.”

“That’s a rotten insinuation! I was sure I had proved to be reliable on this matter in all these past years of service and my judgement is as sound as ever.” Dolores bursts out.

“Please, Dolores, be quiet,” Pleads doctor Pusher “Don’t get me wrong. I trust you. I’ve always trusted you and always will! But, please, understand! There has been an unusual interest in our Department lately and I’m afraid they’ll nail us if we’re not too careful!”

“But if we don’t trust him now with the secret, how can we expect to be trusted by him in the future?”

“Not now, Dolores. Soon, but not just yet.”

“So? We wait?”

“Yeah, we wait.”

Dolores exits the lab and returns to her room in the personnel dormitory at the basement of the DOB.

I don’t follow immediately trying to make sense of what I just heard and I hear another voice talking.

“What did she want?”

“She was asking for more pills.”

“Why were you so loud, then? Are you two having any problems?”

“No, no problems at all.” She lies.

I peek on from the corner of the niche into where I’m hiding and see another doctor, I presume from the white coat, leaning against the door frame, looking at Doctor Pusher with dubious eyes. It seems to me she also is quite certain Doctor Pusher is lying. If she is, why would she lie to her colleague/chief?

***

I’m lying awake in my bed. As usual. Nervous, excited, thrilled even, for what I might find out. I wasn’t able to sleep after what I witnessed. Now I have the proof, beyond any reasonable doubt, that something is definitely going on!

It has been a while since I haven’t lost sleep at night thinking of something. But what has always kept my mind busy was the thought of my mother. This time I have a mystery far too tangled and, as it appears, far too dangerous.

The night is fading out and the morning light is stretching over the horizon.

The sense of frustration I feel deep in my soul isn’t something I wouldn’t like to admit to anybody, but when I’m alone I cannot lie to himself.

Why am I enthralled by the idea that someone is trying to mess with my life?

Suddenly the light pacing in the front room startles me. I’m aware of Dolores coming to my rooms sometimes at night, but somehow I have a feeling this time it isn’t her. Who else would have entered my rooms if not her? What purpose could have possibly drawn someone here?

I decide to creep out of my bed to go have a look. The door is ajar and the faded light of the day draws a pale blue square right into the middle of the front room floor. A dark shape bent over an open drawer searches through its content. Also the cupboard cabinets are searched throughout.

What is she searching for? What does Dolores keep in there?

My heart starts racing like a horse inside my chest, galloping up and down. I can feel my own ear drums expand with each and every heartbeat and my head pulses like the brain is about to explode. Who could that person be?

I try hard to figure out the shape hidden underneath the overalls, but I cannot make out a single detail. All I see is just a black, medium size silhouette. It can be anyone.

All of a sudden the shape turns around and stares at the door from which I’m peeping. I retreat immediately. My heart stops beating instantly. Did she see me?

My mind races through each option at my disposal. Instinctively I think of locking the door and resisting her entrance. But the idea is immediately dismissed because I tell myself whoever had dared to come here, in the middle of the night, must have had a good reason and for sure has taken into consideration the possibility of a physical confrontation. And I’m no good when it comes down to physical things! My body is way too weak. It’s not slender, it’s skinny! It’s like my muscle have retreated inside my bones!

Eventually I decided to tiptoe back to my bed and pretend to sleep. This way I might have the chance to see the villain from much shorter distance and maybe I could even look at her face.

I freeze in my bed expectantly, gazing at the door through the splits of the eyelids. Though the bed covers have become heavy as rocks over my chest and make it difficult to breath. I try to calm myself to steady it. The pacing reaches the door and an unknown hand opens it.

This time the outline is more evident. The overall is far too big for the person who wears it: the sleeves are rolled up and so are the legs. Now I can clearly see the person is not taller than I, and the body is lightly built. The shape seems to shifts its gaze swiftly around the bedroom as it scans every corner. The posture reminds me of someone but I cannot pinpoint any of the people I know.

My forehead is slowly getting covered in perspiration. I concentrate to keep my eyes closed, and try to relax the eyelids so they won’t give me away. I start shivering like I’m having fever.

Unfortunately it appears that also the shape has noticed, therefore moves closer towards my bed. I force myself to stay calm while my body is screaming in fear, and because of it my breath almost dies out. I remain still, listening carefully to every little sound, amplified by the fear, for far too long until I realize I’m alone again.

After a while I hear the commotion from the corridor. Somebody has started to scream out loud, calling for help. Still in bed I seep through my eyelids and methodically search the room. The shape has vanished without a trace. Then, relieved, I get up and run to see what is happening out there.

THREE

Right outside my rooms, on the left down the dim lit corridor, a body is lying on the floor. Three people are surrounding it and I can’t clearly see who it is. What I see is just the nightgown spread out over the shiny floor for the legs are oddly positioned. I’m afraid to proceed any further because I suspect, with a pang in my chest of some frightening feeling, it might be someone I know.

Slowly I move closer along with others that, like me, have exited their rooms, drawn by curiosity.

I take few steps and each of them builds up more and more anxiety. Why do I have the disturbing impression that this accident might have anything to do with the intruder? Could it be my fault? The only thought leaves me aghast! I can’t believe I might attract such attention. And why would I anyway?

I’m almost there. I haven’t noticed but, while I was wondering about the intruder, I have stopped and now there are a lot of people around the body who shade it from my view. I peek above their shoulders to have a better sight. I only see bare feet. The size and the skin colour tell me they surely are of an adult.

This simple fact makes my mind alert.

I’m not so sure I want to know more. The initial feeling of fright seems to have been promoted terror.

I try to draw back few steps while the throng pushes me forward. Then I recognize Benjamin, on his knees, raising his face and looking at me with wide open eyes. My feet freeze instantly but my head start shaking from side to side like I am denying my brain what my heart already knows.

Benjamin stands and start to approach me, to console me, I guess. I realize I am in no mood to hear what he has to say. Whatever it is, I don’t want to know.

I dart back to my rooms. My mind running through images as I go. Of me and her. Of her lovely face at night while wishing me good night. Of us sitting at my table while I’m studying. Of us arguing… No, it cannot be! Not her! Why her?

The knocking at my door goes more and more loud.

“Stop it!” I cry my lungs out. “Go away!”

“Please, Julian.”

“Leave me alone!”

“Let me in.” Benjamin’s voice almost pleading.

“I said, go!”

“You cannot do this on your own!” this time with despair in his tone. “Open up!”

“I’m fine! Just leave!” I say eager to be left alone.

“You know I won’t leave you alone. I’m not leaving! You hear me? I’m not!”

“You stubborn donkey!” I furiously get up and storm to the door and open it angrily. “And now what? How do you think you can help me?”

“By being here. You are my best friend and I’ll never leave you alone!”

I look at him staring at me. His chin dropped and his lips pouting. His eyes glittering with tears.

“I can do it. I will do it!”

“You need me.” And the wariness in his voice makes me aware of something I hadn’t realized before: he knows!

We stand on the threshold as we silently study one another. I don’t even know whether he has being treated or not. He has never mentioned anything before. But why would he know otherwise?

I decide I’m not inquiring further. For now. It is too risky and I know nothing myself anyway.

Few moments later the echo of hard soles on the stairs, marching towards my room, announces the arrival of the Guardians.

As they approach the body the crowd disperse and everyone returns to their rooms.

I am still on the threshold with Benjamin and I see them pass by. They surely are striking: six tall men dressed in black suit, heavy boots to the knees, and equipped with weapons of all sorts.

Ahead of them is their chief, Mr Bold, a broad shouldered, tall and mighty built man, who is in command of the Legion.

I have no recollection of such a tragic event ever happening before. No one of my age can remember a… homicide! “Oh my god! A homicide! They killed her!”

Once Dolores told me Mr Bold and she were schoolmates and, from the way she talked about him, I suspected they had more than a mere friendship.

That’s why he came along! He is going to supervise personally the investigation! What shall I do? Should I report the intrusion or should I hold it back?

Benjamin is standing next to me and looks in the direction of the body. Now that all the people are gone I can see her.

TO BE CONTINUED…

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