To Get a Name Again

Submitted into Contest #130 in response to: Set your story in a nameless world.... view prompt



I'd love to make friends, but I'm not allowed to. None of us are. We’re all the same now. First, it was the clothes and then the hair. If it wasn’t for physical differences and DNA, then we’d be a homogenous mixture. Soon enough we’ll be “as strong as steel.” But I’ve got plans.

It’s illegal to have a best friend. Regardless, mine’s the one with the freckles. I met them before the skin bleaching. I’d be whipped if someone in blue found out I called them Freckles. Names are illegal too. I never say their name out loud. I’m smart.

I used to be taller. My legs hurt a lot these days. Sometimes when walking to the place where we eat, I’ll feel a sharp pain from my feet through my spine. It’s a long walk. I’ve seen what happens when you step out of line. I’ve never seen those people again, I think.

I’ve gotten good at finding differences, but it’s getting hard. Long Arms got short like me. Wrinkles looks younger and younger. Green Eyes lost their color. Now, it’s more like a guessing game. I try to remember how someone makes me feel. Tiny Nose made me nervous. I would love to learn their name. They were beautiful. I haven’t felt that kind of nervous in a while. I hope I don’t miss them just because I don’t recognize them.

Every day and every night, I dream of getting out and taking Freckles and Tiny Nose with me. But there are so many blue people. I’ve thought of it all. Becoming superheroes and flying out of here. Sneaking out while Long Arms makes a scene. Finding body doubles to replace me and my friends. But whenever I run through these plans in my mind, none of them see it through to the end. Regardless, I keep dreaming. There has to be a way out.

I go to bed, wake up in my cell, and eat breakfast there. Boiled potatoes on a tray. Like dogs, we’re walked to our jobs, ten feet apart. No talking or looking, or else we’re whipped. We eat lunch ten feet apart as well. While some are taken away for procedures, we continue working. I’m a waste collector. Once I get out of here, I’ll tell you how to make the richest compost. Every day, I’d rather work than go get drugged and altered. Weeks of recovery and isolation, no thank you. The sun and I are doing just fine.

“Line up.” My twins and I follow orders. Do you know how difficult it is to make a straight line ten feet apart? A blue person holds a scanner. I don’t know the science behind it. One at a time, they hold this black block above our wrists. If it beeps once, then you keep working. Twice, you’re pulled away for a procedure. Today’s block holder stands in front of me. I assume my position. Today is going to be a great day for me and the sun. I’m gonna scoop up so much waste and think up a really good escape plan. I’m gonna dream up something like those spy movies I watched before all of this. My mom, my dad, my sister, and me watching a movie. That sounds so nice right now.

Beep. Beep.

Before I can lower my arm, I’m yanked out of line and thrown onto a tractor trailer. The only way this could be worse is if they put too many people on here. If I’m going to be operated on when I don’t want to, at least I’d like to sit on the ride there. Perhaps a higher power is tuned into my thoughts because no one else is thrown on. Me and two others got this whole trailer to ourselves. We bump along. I don’t know what the others are thinking. Speaking for myself, I don’t want to go. I don’t know what I look like anymore. If I had to guess, I probably look like my fellow passengers. Maybe a bit skinnier. Regardless, I don’t want to lose anymore of myself.

The tractor screeches to a halt, and my arm catches me from falling over. We’re ushered out. Our short line of three shuffles into the building. Despite how ordinary this place tries to be, it isn’t. When everything is beige, it sticks with you. Making everything look the same doesn’t make it any less memorable.

A blue person directs me to a room that looks like the last room I sat in and like every other room in this place. I sit on the wooden chair against the wall. This way, I can see into the hallway and look at the people walking by. Although they all look the same, at least they’re more interesting than the walls.

Just then, I hear something like a vase breaking. I hear people yelling, really yelling. They are mad. It’s kind of refreshing to hear anger, after so long without it. From my chair, I see a bunch of blue people run down the hallway. Like people crowding a fight, I join in, get up from my chair, and walk to my door frame. I don’t think I’m allowed to leave this room. On my tippy toes, I try to get a good look. More smashing and screaming. More running. It felt like the wind was blowing past me. With even more people, I really can’t see anything. I’m in the nosebleed seats, so I look around, something I haven’t done in a while. Across the hallway, a person wearing the same outfit and rocking the same haircut as me waits in the doorframe like I do. They must feel me looking at them because they then look at me. Do I look as sad as them? I nod. They nod. We can’t do much more. If caught, we already got ourselves two whippings each. So I look down the hall, the empty end. I see more twins in doorways, as if an invisible fence cages us in. I hear more crashing, some tussling.

I see more blue people run in from the door at the end of the hall. The closest guard is five rooms down. That door is three rooms away, but I don’t know where that door goes. Plus, it’s still sunny outside. I’m not that stealthy. But I don’t want to be here. I have a dream to get out, and what good would I be if I didn’t try?

While turning my head back and forth to see my captors and my destination, I look at my across-the-hall neighbor again. They don’t look as sad as before. They’re standing a little taller and seem to be smiling with their heart. They nod to me, so I nod back and make my move. I scale the wall like a chameleon. I jump into the next room. I nod to another twin who looks like they’ve never seen a person before. I really wish this plan didn’t have so many surprises. I nod to them and wait for their permission. They look around, to the floor to their across-the-hall neighbor and back to me. They nod back. I smile and wave goodbye. I scale the wall and jump into the next room. I see another twin. Their confusion melts quicker than the last one’s, and they hug me. I have no idea how long it’s been since I got hugged. 

With the new wave of confidence, I slither along the wall to my last room. But I see a twin across the way wave at me. Not like they’re saying hi. Rather, they were telling me to beware. I’m so close. I can’t stop now. I feel the new door frame and turn around. I step into the room and let out a big sigh.

Then, I look up and see the danger I was warned about: a doctor consulting their patient. I swear they’re as shocked as I am. I started to fidget, scratching my head and biting my tongue. Breathing heavy. I’m gonna get ratted out. I’m gonna be beat every day until I die. Why didn’t I just stay put? Why did I ever dream?

But the doctor resumes their conversation. “Make sure you rest plenty during your recovery.” They take a beat to nod to me like my mother used to when I’d ask if I could play at a friend’s house. Get out of here but know that I love you. I mouth a thank you and sneak out. I turn the door’s handle with the precision of a surgeon. Like the spy movies I’ll soon be watching. I open the door, check all the angles within my range, and peek around all the corners I can. I slide through and close the door behind me.

I look around at another empty hall. The lights are off. I don’t think there’s anyone else here. I don’t really care. All I see is the door at the end of the hallway. There’s a window in it, and a bit of sunlight shines through and onto the floor. While thinking of Freckles and Tiny Nose, I walk toward it. I’ll come back for them. Once I start to jog, I dream of finding my family again. When I get to running, I imagine hugging that doctor one day. In no time, I’m at the door. I twist the handle, swing it open, and soak up the sun. I know it’s the same sun I felt thirty minutes before, but it feels different. Now, I choose to feel it. I choose to be here.

Just as I’m about to shout for joy, I see a blue uniform. Why did I ever think this would be easy?

January 27, 2022 01:46

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Benny Regalbuto
19:29 Feb 03, 2022

"If I’m going to be operated on when I don’t want to, at least I’d like to sit on the ride there." What a line. A good reminder of just how much we take for granted in our own lives. I also loved your usage of they/them. It's a detail that didn't have to exist, but that it does is a wonderful bit of worldbuilding: the protagonist's been locked away for so long (and presumably from quite a young age) that gender has no meaning for them. They remember having a mother, a father, and a sister, but that's as far as it goes. Great story. Hope th...


Harlow Jones
22:18 Feb 07, 2022

Hi Benny, Thank you for your feedback. I'm so glad you noticed that detail! I'm happy you enjoyed it.


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Anna Nonymous
18:04 Feb 01, 2022

Harlow, this was fantastic! Loved your take on dystopia - it gave me "Giver" vibes while being a totally fresh. This line was great: "Making everything look the same doesn’t make it any less memorable." Really wonderful work here!


Harlow Jones
22:17 Feb 07, 2022

Hi Hannah, Thank you for your kind words. I'm glad you enjoyed it!


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