Author’s Note: This is an untitled dystopian story, tentatively titled “Naughty and Nice”, I wrote for use as an extra credit assignment over the Christmas break in my class while we were working on our Dystopian Literature unit. I know it still needs a bit of work, but this is the most current draft. I hope you enjoy it!
Snow covered red and green lights started flashing as the sound of bells ringing cascaded from the bullhorns installed on every building corner. Corei looked at the lights for just a second before she dropped her shopping bag and bolted in the direction of her home. Posters of a shadowy face with glowing white eyes saying “He knows if you’ve been bad or good” covered the walls of the buildings on her way home, but they simply passed in a blur as she careened around a corner, seeing the door to her home at the end of the alley.
“Mandatory curfew is now in effect,” a voice boomed over the sound of the bells. Corei didn’t stop to listen, just tried to run faster, slipping through a patch of deeper snow, and seeing her younger sister, Katrine holding the door to their house open for her. Corei dove through the door just as the perforated steel plate slammed shut, Katrine barely having time to close their front door before it was turned into splinters.
“You barely made it in time,” Katrine said as Corei leaned against the wall, catching her breath. “Where were you this time?”
“I was out trying to buy some gifts for our friends when the alarm came on,” Corei answered between gulps of air.
“Gifts? Where are they?”
“Had to leave them behind so I could make it back in time. Where are mom and dad?” Corei asked as she walked into the kitchen and looked at the display screen mounted on the largest wall. The screen showed the general location of everyone who lived in the home, as well as a meter showing whether each person had been good or bad over the previous year. These meters were only checked by the Krampus patrol once a year, and that time was getting close, so everyone was nervous about their scores.
Corei ignored the small whirring noise as a camera in the corner of the kitchen followed her movement as she saw that her parents were safe in a neighbor’s house for now. Having lived her entire life with the cameras and microphones, she barely even noticed it.
“I can’t believe I had to drop everything I just bought because of this idiotic curfew,” she said, watching her meter drop a little bit more toward the red.
“Corei, you can’t keep saying things like that. You’re the closest to the Bad side out of all the people I know,” Katrine said, watching the score continue to drop. “Do you want to get taken away? It doesn’t just affect you. If you’re taken away for being bad, then the rest of us are punished too.”
“I don’t care what Kris Kring does,” Corei replies, causing her meter to drop to just above the red line. “Just because he runs this city doesn’t mean he controls my thoughts. I’m tired of…”
A loud, harsh siren roared through the kitchen as the wall screen flashed red behind Corei. As she and Katrine looked at it, they saw that Corei’s meter was now well into the red zone.
“What is wrong with you?” Katrine managed to scream over the siren. “Don’t you care about any of us? You know how much harder it is to go from bad to good than from good to bad.”
The next morning, when the steel plate was finally lifted, signaling the end of the curfew, Corei tried to bold from the house, but when she opened the door, two of the Eradication of Lousy Feeling officers were in the street, sitting atop their reindeer mounts.
“Are you Corei Priolo?” one of them barked as soon as he saw her.
“Yes,” she replied timidly, shrinking back into the house slightly.
“Due to a recent alert from a Good/Bad meter attached to your name, we have been issued a mandate to attach a monitoring collar,” the first officer said as the other one pulled a large metal ring from his back. “Please stand still until the collar has been firmly attached or we will be forced to deal with you immediately.”
Corei wanted to slam the door in the officers’ faces, but she knew that would bring an even bigger punishment to her family than her simply being judged as Naughty and taken away. The ELF officers rested the heavy metal collar on Corei’s shoulders and snapped it shut. The ring had a number of large, sphere shaped microphones attached to it, surrounding her neck.
“These microphones will capture everything you say, which will be sent immediately to a listening station where a group of other ELF officers will be monitoring everything you say at all times until the yearly judging has finished,” the officer explained. “At that point, if you have been judged as Nice, the collar will be removed. If you have been judged as Naughty, you know what happens.”
Corei swallowed deeply and nodded her head, not taking her eyes off of the ELF officers as they remounted their reindeer and rode away.
As soon as the officers were out of sight, Corei bolted away from the house. She spent the entire day out, trying to find anything she could do to bring her Good/Bad meter back into the green. She helped elderly people cross the street. She helped wash someone’s laundry. She even helped someone carry their huge pile of garbage to the dump. She did everything that she could think of to get some more Nice points, even going so far as to rescue a ball that a group of kids had accidentally thrown over the city wall. She had climbed to the top of the wall to make sure that the coast was clear. She didn’t want to jump over and find herself surrounded by a group of polar bears, or facing one of the robots shaped like snowmen that patrolled outside the city and were set to kill any person they detected outside the walls. But neither of those would be as bad as if she accidentally jumped into a bush infested with Kris Kring’s poisonous mistletoe.
At the end of the day, when she returned home, Corei could barely make it inside before dropping into a chair from exhaustion.
“Corei, you may want to come and see this,” her mom called from in the kitchen. With a groan, Corei pushed herself back out of the chair and stumbled into the kitchen where she saw her entire family staring at the mounted screen. She moved to stand next to them and immediately saw what the problem was.
Instead of having a meter to show how good or bad each family member was, the screen was simply a number in front of a red background.
“Two? What does that mean?” Katrine asked.
“It’s the number of days until they come check our Good/Bad score, and I can’t see if I’ve made it back into the green anymore,” Corei replied, falling into one of the chairs around their dining table.
For the next two days, Corei was a person deranged. Sprinting throughout the city, doing absolutely everything she could think of to bring her score back up. She picked up random trash in the streets, complimented just about everyone that she passed on something. Nothing she did changed the display on the screen.
Dreading what was ahead of her, Corei woke up on the morning of the day when the screen flashed a large zero on the red background. As she and her family were just sitting down to breakfast, they heard the steel plate slam shut in front of their door. Katrine, leapt from the table, running upstairs to see if the same had happened to all of the other houses around them. It hadn’t.
Since they couldn’t leave, Corei and her family sat around the house all day, trying to take their mind off of the fact that they still had no idea if Corei was going to be taken away from them.
Finally, just before they were going to eat dinner, Corei heard a number of voices from outside their door. She opened the front door and looked through the snowflake shaped holes in the steel plate that was keeping all of them inside. Outside the house was at least a half dozen ELF officers and their reindeer.
“Corei Priolo,” a voice from outside boomed from the city’s bullhorns, “by order of Kris Kring, you have been scheduled for removal by the Krampus Patrol. Anyone else in the building is ordered to stand back and not interfere.”
Corei turned around to see her family one last time only to find them cowering behind doorjambs and furniture as the steel plate behind her whizzed open and ELF officers flooded the house. They took one look at the collar around her neck and put a red sack over her head, handcuffed her arms behind her back, and led her outside.
The officers slowly got Corei into the sleigh trailing behind two of the reindeer, giving the neighbors plenty of time to see what was going on. After what seemed like an eternity, but was probably closer to just a few miuntes, Corei heard the crack of a whip as the sleigh jolted into motion.
She rode through the city, stopping occasionally so the ELF officers could pick up a few more people. The exact same thing happened at each stop as had happened at Corei’s home. She didn’t try to talk to any of the other people being loaded into the sleigh, but one of them did. She heard him just start to say something before hearing a thud, and they never finished what they were going to say.
Corei was eventually removed from the sleigh, an ELF officer leading her firmly by the arm until she was pushed through a door and she heard a cell door slam shut, the bars rattling slightly. The sack and handcuffs had never been removed.
She didn’t know how long she was kept in the cell. It could have been an hour, it could have been a month. The only thing she could have possibly used to judge time was when someone would come into the cell and feed her, but that only happened three times, and she was starving every time they showed up. The sack and handcuffs were never removed.
Then, one day, when Corei thought someone was finally coming to feed her again, instead of the sack being lifted slightly, she was yanked roughly to her feet and led out of her cell. After being paraded through hallways, she lost count of how many, Corei was forced into a chair in a warm room that smelled slightly of mint. Her handcuffs and the sack over her head were finally removed.
Looking around her, Corei saw an enormous desk in front of her. She also saw that the room had all red brick walls and was warm because of a fire in a fireplace in the side wall that looked big enough for her to stand in. There were also two of the biggest ELF officers she had ever seen standing against the wall behind her chair.
Eventually, a panel in the wall behind the desk opened, and a bright red sleigh came through the opening, containing a gigantically fat man wearing fuzzy red pajamas and a red cap. He was old too, he looked ancient to Corei, with patchy white hair sticking out from beneath the cap and a beard that looked like it was made of white steel wool.
“So, Ms. Priolo,” the man boomed. “What are we going to do with you? Spreading thoughts against me is something we just can’t tolerate.”
“Wait, you’re Kris Kring?” Corei asked.
“Of course I am. Now, you obviously know you’ve been placed on the Naughty list,” he continued, referring to a screen built into his desktop. “Questioning the ways of the city, trying to furiously make up for what you have done in hopes that you can be Good again. What you didn’t realize is that once someone’s Naughty/Nice score drops into the red, they can never get back into green.”
“Who gets to choose if someone is good or bad?”
“Well I do, of course,” Kris Kring laughed at her, his entire body vibrating with the movement. “Take her away. Let’s have her work in the factory for a while,” he said with a wave of his hand as he turned away from Corei.
The two ELF officers lifted Corei from her chair by her arms and led her through a series of hallways to an elevator. They get in and one of the officers pressed a red button with a green F on it. The elevator started to descend. It took almost five minutes before the elevator finally stopped and opened its doors.
Corei was led into an enormous room full of conveyor belts that snaked their way around people standing everywhere. Some of the people were placing items inside the boxes while others sealed them, and still others stamped a label on the boxes. She recognized these boxes as being the ones that her family would receive sometime soon with all of the supplies they were being given for the year based on the overall Goodness rating of the family.
The officers led her to an open position towards the end of the conveyor belt and told her that her job was to take the labels that popped out of a slit in a metal pole next to her and stick them on the boxes as they passed.
Corei worked and worked, day and night. She was forced to work from the time she woke up until way past the point every day she thought she was going to collapse from exhaustion. She even had to eat her tiny meals of bread and water, sometimes with some meat that had a funny smell to it while she was attaching labels to red and green boxes as they rolled past.
Almost a month after Corei had started working in the factory, a small red box with green stripes passed her and she affixed the label of the family and their address like normal. Almost not noticing it, Corei whipped her head back and saw that the label on the box was for her family, but the address was different. Instead of living in the decently sized house she had shared with them, the address was now for a part of the city full of cramped apartments that would barely be big enough for them.
Because Corei was taken away, her family had to start over again, earning more and more Nice points in order to be granted a house big enough for all of them again. She also realized that the package of supplies was over a month late getting to them, meaning that they had gone without normal supplies for weeks, probably only eating what other people would give to them.
And, the box was less than half the size it normally was, even though only one person had been removed from the family.
Corei watched the box continue down the conveyor belt and disappear behind a rubber flap as a single tear traced its way down her cheek and hit the floor next to her feet.