This story is dedicated to Batool Hussain on Reedsy Prompts.
She laughed wildly, crazily, manically.
There was no surprise there; she had been laughing like that her whole life. Ever since birth.
Because she, Batool, was a Laugher.
She felt more like a broken record, a puppet, a hyena. Her throat was sore day and night, and she wasn't sure how long it'd be until she couldn't speak. But she couldn't control it at all. She had to laugh. Batool didn't know what would happen if she didn't. Her body was simply designed to laugh, although her throat wasn't.
After the apocalypse, the government had created this system to introduce humor and happiness into their dry, traumatized world. They brainwashed all survivors, and everyone was given a role from the moment of birth. There were the Jokers, which had to make jokes about everything. There were the Laughers, which had to laugh at anything funny.
Then, there were the Sarcastics.
Batool wasn't exactly sure how to describe them. They were both, but at the same time, neither of the other two types. They didn't laugh or joke around. They smiled and made lightly sarcastic remarks. She'd never met one, so she couldn't exactly say.
Sarcastics were rare and were considered divine. They were allowed to play both roles but neither at the same time. They had a real choice.
Which, unfortunately, neither the Jokers nor the Laughers could say about themselves. Every Joker had to joke. Every Laugher had to laugh. Having a choice was simply unreal to everyone else.
Batool had decided to move to the very outskirts of their town, in a small cabin with abandoned neighboring houses. No Jokers lived there; they always lived in the center. They had always been the center of attention, so their jokes would be heard.
This way, she didn't have to laugh at all.
Batool didn't want to be a Laugher. She really didn't. As a child, looking out at the world through two innocent, unknowing eyes, everything was happy. Everything was funny. It was nice to laugh!
Now, she looked out at the world with hate. It wasn't fun to laugh anymore. She recalled all the times she had been sad, and a Joker had made a joke.
Through the tears blurring the lines of the world into shapeless smears, she had laughed.
These new roles had ruined laughing for her. She sipped her ginger tea, a feeble attempt at healing her scratched-up throat.
She was seriously considering Alteration.
It was completely and utterly illegal, of course. The government had carefully counted every Joker, every Laugher, to make sure there was one Laugher for every Joker. Changing one's role would tip the perfect balance that was the (only) pride of their post-apocalyptic world.
It was extremely costly, too. A scientist had found the essence for Alteration one day and had secretly spread the word, unbeknownst to the government. She had called it the Alteration Elixir, or the Arugula Express to prevent suspicion. Unfortunately, she had never gotten to try it on herself, as she passed away from mysterious causes soon after.
Batool had heard of both success and failure stories from the Alteration Elixir, but decided to try it anyways. Finally, being able to escape the role she had been stuffed into her whole life was worth a huge risk, wasn't it?
Batool decided to register for Alteration. She got an appointment soon after and had gotten no sleep the night before the day of.
She had to go into town, and that meant the possibility of encountering a Joker. That meant laughing, and she was nowhere close to the mood for that. It was time to be serious.
Batool stuffed her earbuds in, slipped on her coat and gloves, grabbed her wallet, and walked out.
She walked to the store as fast as she could, trying to avoid Jokers at all costs. She really didn't feel like laughing today.
Thankfully, she had reached the store with no interactions with Jokers. Batool looked up at the dusty, worn building, cringing as the blindingly neon green Arugula Express sign flickered. She wondered why the government hadn't taken a closer look, but then realized no one in their town would have enough interest in arugula to enter unless they knew its meaning.
She reached towards the door, fingers trembling from the cold. She couldn't wait to get inside and finally have some warmth. A strange feeling rang over her brain, and for a moment her fingers retreated from the door handle. She remembered what she was here for, and how important it was, and decided to go in anyway.
Batool was terrified, excited.
She entered the Arugula Express with high hopes.
It wasn't warm. It was freezing cold, perhaps even colder than it had been outside. Scratch that, it was definitely about 30 degrees colder in the building.
It was also completely pitch black.
Batool felt like someone else was watching her. She was familiar with the feeling, as she'd always been an outcast, stared at, talked about. She felt the eyes gazing onto her fumbling in the dark.
It was fine. It was probably a camera.
She didn't know where to go. She didn't know what to do. Batool pulled out her phone, thinking the light would help. Her numb fingers attempted to tightly secure it, but failed.
She dropped her phone with a splash.
Splash? Wasn't she indoors?
She kneeled down to grab it and felt a strange liquid around her hands and knees. The mysterious liquid smelled coppery, almost like... blood.
A chill fell over Batool's body, the possibility a burdening weight in her mind. She shook it off. It was probably the Elixir!
This wasn't scary... at all. The lights had been turned off for secrecy, and some Alternation Elixir had fallen onto the floor.
Batool thought this to herself until she felt a cold hand on her back, long nails digging into her flesh.
(Note: Thank you for reading my story!! For the next few weeks, I am dedicating one story to each of my followers! I'm so sorry I've been so busy, this story was supposed to come out months ago~I apologize to Batool for making her wait so long for her story, and I apologize to my followers for making you all wait so long for any stories :) This story is fully dedicated to Batool Hussain; make sure you check out her account and stories! Thanks for all the support :D We're almost at 100 followers!!! Check out the rest of my stories, too! Thanks!!)