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THE GIRL’S STORY.

First Recording.

My name is Jackie, and, it's not so bad living here. Seriously. At least, I don't think so anyway, but I guess it's hard to say. Then again, I've never really been anywhere else. I've rarely even been below Floor 12. My parents won't let me. They say things get bad down there, so I have to stay up here, on the higher levels.

Don’t get me wrong, I mean, I wish I didn't have to. Things get kind of boring, walking the same halls every day. I'm always trying to find something new to do, but it’s kinda’ hard when you’ve lived your whole life in the same tower. Sometimes I'll wander up to the rooftop where we have the gardens. That's where all of our food comes from, so we all take turns planting and harvesting. I don't mind the work, actually, unless it means pulling carrots. Those suckers are really hard to yank out of the dirt.

When I think of it, it’s actually kind of annoying having to go to the rooftop, and not just because of the work. It’s really more about what we have to pass by as we head up there. So, the top level of the tower is Floor 1. None of us are allowed inside, so every time we go up the stairs we’re forced to stare at that big, golden number. The number “1” that sits on the locked entry door. I really wish I knew what was inside but you know, nobody’s allowed in. Instead we just have to pass by every few days when it’s our turn to work the gardens. You might as well string some candy in front of my face and tell me I’m not allowed to eat it.

Of course you can't just pick vegetables all day. That gets boring quick. Besides, most of the time I'm in school. Well, school's probably too strong a word for it. We meet most days of the week in the library on Floor 6. Our teacher, Mrs. Bloom, tries to lead class the best she can. It's just too bad our books aren't great. A lot of them are about to fall apart, and most of them were scavenged from the lower floors. I'm not talking about something like Floors 13 or 14. I'm not even talking about Floor 21. I mean the books were taken from way down below... like, as far down as Floor 30.

I know right? I can't believe it myself. That's what we have the Scavengers for, though. Without them we'd never get new books, or supplies. They're pretty much the bravest people in the tower. They say that anyone who makes it onto a Scavenging team is the type that could have been a police officer or even a soldier before all this happened. I mean, that makes sense. They wear all that riot gear and it looks like they know how to fight. Sucks though, since as tough as they are, every once in a while we lose one of them. That just goes with the territory of being a Scavenger.

Point is life is only livable because of them since it’s not like we’re rolling in things to do. Sometimes I’ll sit around in the lobby with the other kids and watch movies on the Blu-Ray player, but that doesn't always work. For instance, if it's a really cloudy day then the solar panels on the roof will die out, which always sucks for everyone. If we want light then we have to burn candles, and we don't have many of those. Then again, we don't really have light bulbs either. Well. We have few. Want to take a guess where we get those from? Yeah. Scavengers. We get everything from them.

I kinda’ always wanted to be one. Who wouldn’t want to be? They get to see stuff from a long time ago, before we had to live on the top of the tower. Speaking of that, nobody really talks about The Before, and I'm not even sure how much anyone knows about it. I guess it makes sense to think that once upon a time we lived on the lower floors. Maybe even the ground... if there is a ground. I've never met anyone that's seen it, not even the Scavengers, and they’ve been further down the tower than anyone.

When you stop and think about it, I mean, our lives don’t make sense. We couldn't have always lived up here, right? It gets me pretty antsy thinking about it because, I mean, this is a tower, so we had to have come up the stairs at some point. Didn’t we?

I don’t know and thinking about it gets me frustrated. When I'm in this kind of mood I go to the rooftop and look out. You can actually see other towers, rising up in the distance. Some aren't even that far from ours. I stare at them and I’m just like… is anybody over there? Is anybody looking back at me? Does anybody know or remember we’re trapped in this place?

Or are we all that’s left?

After I’ve gotten myself sufficiently depressed I’ll stare over the edge of the roof, trying to see how far below I can look. Thing is, it's impossible to see much. This tower just vanishes into the Darkness. Nobody, and I mean nobody, even knows why. It’s just blackness down there.

Oh, about Floor 12. Yeah, that's where the Creep really starts. The Creep? It's this... gunk. Super disgusting stuff that you shouldn't touch because it makes you feel weird, and the lower down the tower you go, the more you see it. It starts to cover the walls and it's kinda gross. It's really slick, like saliva, and it looks all muscle-y. Almost alive. Good thing you don't have to worry about it when you’re higher than Floor 11. Still, I wonder what it is. We all do. I know that when you touch it, you can start hallucinating. I did once. Well okay, I’m lying. I’ve touched it a few times when I've been on the lower levels, which is why my parents made the rule that I couldn't head down there in the first place. I mean, I don’t pay attention to them, but I get why they don’t want me going that far below into the tower. The Creep makes you see.... things. Shadowy things. Sometimes they're right in front of you, but most of the time they're in the corner of your eye. They say that by Floor 21 you don't even have to touch the Creep to hallucinate, which is a total trip. Must suck to live down there.

Still, I wonder. I wonder about this all the time, actually. I wonder about what's below Floor 21.

Um, mom told me I should start recording my thoughts when I’m in these kind of moods so, this one might be short. I mean duh, it’s my first one. At first when she said I should record myself I was like, okay no. Because she’s crazy and I don’t want to seem crazy too. That’s no exaggeration by the way, I mean, she’s been a total whacko ever since I turned 13. Also, I mean, who cares about what I have to say? It’s not like I’m ever going to listen to this.

But… here I am. Probably because I really am going as crazy as her, but also because I go nuts thinking about how nobody else cares that we’re trapped here. I get it, we’re alive, so we should be grateful. But do you know how insane it makes me being the one person asking “why” when everyone else is acting like this is just the way things are? God.

Anyway, guess I’ll try to keep this up. I’m supposed to meet with Allison tonight. Don’t know what we’ll do. Try to find a new movie in the Blu-Ray collection, I guess. I think one of the boys said the Scavengers hauled up a game system from the Deep Creep. I haven’t seen one since I was a kid. The last one we had broke when I was like, ten. That’s what? Seven years. Dang. I’d really like to play a videogame again.

 

Recording Two.

Should I start these off by saying “Second Recording,” or “Recording Two”? I don’t know. I guess nobody’s going to care how I document myself. I mean, who’s going to listen to this, right? I probably won’t. Why would I? I’m just recording this so I don’t get as psycho as mom has.

Which, by the way… I haven’t gone psycho, right? Sounds like I’m trying to convince myself. It’s just that I feel like ever since I turned 17, life is just… weird. Different.

Hard.

About turning 17. Wow, yeah. I’m getting old. That’s depressing.

Speaking of old, the oldest person I know is Mr. McCauley. He lives in Apartment 8 -12. Uh, should I explain that? Everyone knows that the apartments are labelled by floor and room, right? Eighth floor, room twelve. Yeah, anyway, that’s Mr. McCauley’s place. Guy’s 84 years old. Eight. Four. Think about that. He’s that old and even he doesn’t really know about what happened before The Before. He claims that a long time ago, there was no Darkness and no Creep. Duh, everyone says that, so it’s not like he’s some fountain of secret wisdom or anything.

But he does say interesting stuff, like, that this tower was old even when the Darkness came. Like, super old. He says this place used to be for poor people who couldn’t live in nicer towers, but when I ask him where the nicer towers were or what they were like, he just kind of mumbles and trails off. Weird old guy, but I like him. Still, I don’t think he actually lived before The Before. Unless someone wiped his memory or something. The reason I say that is because if he’d lived before the Darkness came, he’d have, I dunno’, more details or something. He doesn’t know when the Scavenging started, and he doesn’t know what it was like to be outside the tower. He can’t even tell me what the ground was like. Honestly I get the feeling he’s just telling me stories he heard from other people. Maybe from people that came before him. That would mean we’ve been living at the top of this tower for more than 84 years, at least. I can’t imagine that.

How did I even start talking about this anyway? Wait, I was going to talk about my birthday. That’s right, I was going to start talking about how depressing that was. Yeah, mom was trying her best to keep her head together, which she’s barely been able to do since I was a kid. It’s like the minute I became a teenager she lost it. Now she’s always so flighty. I guess I just don’t get her anymore. You know? One day she’s acting like she doesn’t have a care in the world, and the next day she’s so depressed that she doesn’t get out of bed. I worry about her, but, it’s been like this for a long time. Sometimes I feel like just giving up on her but, I mean, it’s mom. Who just stops talking to their mom? Plus, she was at least putting in an effort that day. And dad? Dad was… working. I don’t exactly know what he does, but I know his job is on Floor 3. That’s where they do science stuff. So anyway, my birthday was going good enough, I guess. There’s a conference room on Floor 4, where I live, and every kid’s birthday gets celebrated there. Well, except Tommy’s, but that because his mom’s more of a nutter than mine. They had his party on the rooftop, which was pretty dang depressing. Celebrating a birthday beneath endlessly black clouds…. Yeah. Happy birthday, Tommy.

But no, mine was definitely more depressing. A lot more, which sucks since things were going fine enough until the alarms went off. You’ve got a dozen kids my age trying to enjoy cake, and can we please remember that cake isn’t exactly something we can cook easily here? Anyway, we’re just trying to eat our cake when the alarm sirens go off. Yeah, exactly, right in the middle of eating something you can literally only order for yourself once a year.

I never exactly found out what happened, but I’ve got an idea. I had a chance to talk with the other kids about this and it turns out Allison’s dad is in Security. Man, what a bad end of the straw. I’d hate to be picked for Security. It’s like having the risks of being a Scavenger but never being allowed to explore the Deep Creep, so what’s the point?

Anyway, Allison says there was a Creep infestation. It doesn’t happen too often, but when it does, just… damn. The entire tower feels like a hornet’s nest. Everyone gets antsy, starts buzzing around, and then Lockdown kicks in and we’re all forced inside our rooms.

Maybe I should explain that a bit more. See, the Creep doesn’t stay put, waiting for you die. It’ll straight up hunt you when it wants. The people down on the lower floors are in charge of pushing it back whenever it starts to move but, they don’t always get the job done. The problem is when the Creep gets into something and starts making its way up. Maybe it gets into an old elevator shaft, or maybe it finds its way up some old piping. That’s okay. When that happens, it’s easy enough to get rid of. I hear fire normally does the job.

Once in a while though… it just gets up into the halls. Fast. I never got the full story about what happened but if I hear right, it crawled straight up the stairwell. That’s bad, and not like a “we’ll be okay” kind of bad. It’s real bad, since the stairwell’s our only way of moving between floors. It’s blocked up below Floor 21 specifically to keep the really bad Creep from pushing up into the higher levels. Like I’ve said, though, Creep’s kinda’ in a lot of places from Floor 12 downward. Nothing too intense, but, bad enough.

There are days when the Creep gets angry though. Sounds weird, right? How does something like that get angry? How should I know? All I know is that it does. It starts to pulse and grow real fast and if it were ever to choke up the stairwell, it’d be impossible for us to travel up or down the tower. So when it does get angry and we’re all stuck in our rooms, that’s called Lockdown. These automated iron shutters lock in front of our doors and the only people allowed in the halls are Security, who have to track down the source of the Creep growth and do whatever it takes to get rid of it. Most of the time that means flamethrowers, but, I heard guns that day. Lots of them. I don’t know how firing bullets at the Creep helps, but there’s nothing else they could have been firing at.

I hope.

Worst part is that Lockdown went all night and kept going until noon the next day. I was never able to fall asleep. I just kept staring out of my window, looking at the other towers in the distance and wondering why we can’t get out of here. I’m not sure what’s worse, the flinching I did when the gunfire started, or how I got used to it after a few hours. Dad wasn’t able to get home that night, and mom pretended as if she couldn’t hear anything. She just read a book all night. Yeaaaah kinda’ crazy but I guess I don’t blame her, I mean, that night really sucked. Major. You could hear screaming now and again, and the next day there were a few people missing. I guess they must have been part of Security too. They’re gone now.

 

Recording Three.

I don’t know. I’m not in a mood for recording today, but that kind of defeats the point of recording in the first place, I guess. This thing is supposed to be for when I’m moody. Now, it’s not like I’m in a bad mood. Actually, things are kinda’ good right now. Allison found a CD somewhere. It’s got some real wicked crazy dance music on it. Good stuff. You don’t hear a lot of music like that because the music on our computers is … well let’s call it limited. We network and share everything we find but, still, it’s not like we have a lot of musicians producing new music these days. If you’re hearing it right now they were probably listening to it whenever the hell many years ago, before we got stuck in here.

Still, like I said, music’s a high demand kind of thing.

Especially dance music. Now I hate dancing, because I’m terrible at it, but it’s nice to pretend as if I can do it once in a while. So yeah, me and Allison had a dance off. The thing is, I’ve seen this happen in some of those terribly cheesy movies about ‘besties’ I’ve watched on Blu- Ray. I didn’t think it was real but… somehow it felt okay to let off some steam and just… dance. Like an idiot.

God. How typical. I’m too ashamed of my own silliness to even keep recording.

 

Recording Four.

Have I talked much about Floor 3? I don’t think so. Anyway, one of the solar panels on the roof cracked today. We really can’t afford that. This tower doesn’t have the materials to fix solar panels, or at least not enough to fix many of them, so that’s why there are a lot of rules about how to behave when you’re on the rooftop. Danny was goofing around and he accidentally launched his spade through the air. It’d have been okay if the thing had gone flying over the edge, but instead it’s like it had a mind of its own because it went straight for that solar panel.

The thing cracked, and you just knew, just knew, how bad the situation was the moment you heard the glass splintering on the ground. Might as well have thrown a kid over the edge by the way we all just… stared. It took Security exactly one minute to get to the roof and haul Danny off. I don’t know when we’ll see him again. I mean, he’ll be back. These things happen. But, one of Security’s jobs is to ‘reinforce’ the rules to you whenever you break them. They make sure you really know how important it is to follow the laws of the tower. Sounds totally creepy right? Glad I’ve never had to go in for Reinforcement.

Anyway, dad showed up on the roof with them. Guy’s funny, you know? Still looks like he’s in his twenties when I know he’s like, closing in on fifty. Those glasses he wears are way too big for his head and his hair is kinda’, I don’t know, uncombed. It works for him though. Some girls think he’s handsome. Allison’s actually told me she has a crush on him. Yeah. That’s gross.

Well, him and his team scraped up all the pieces. Somehow they’ll figure a way to repair the panel, since that’s pretty much what Floor 3‘s all about. Story goes that it was one of the first floors they made safe in the tower. Makes sense, really. People couldn’t live here if guys like my dad weren’t busy doing stuff for science and keeping us alive. We’d have no solar panels for power, so, no movies, lights, stuff like that. Not to mention it’d be impossible to maintain the garden. The vegetables we grow up there are from seeds created in the labs. Dad says that once upon a time, vegetables needed a lot more light and rain to stay alive. These vegetables can survive on less, and last longer. That’s cool. We’d have no food without them.

Oh. Allison’s here. I think she brought the dance music again. God.

 

Recording Five.

I freakin’ hate Allison.

Ugh.

No, I don’t. I love her. I hate her then I love her, or the other way around. One minute we’re just sitting around, laughing it up. The next thing I know we’re arguing. She just doesn’t get it, you know? She doesn’t get that I’m not okay with living here. Living like this. Not knowing why we’re in this tower. I ask questions, a lot of questions, and she acts like I’m the one with a problem when I’m just being me. Why can’t she get that?

I mean… it’s her fault right?

Then again, it’s not like I’m rolling deep with a crowd of friends. And when you piss everyone, the problem might not be them so much. Problem might be you.

At least that’s how I feel right now.

But it’s seriously hard standing out for being what you are. And the thing is, I get it. I’m annoying. I get on people’s nerves because I don’t like the answers I get and not just about the tower, but like, life. Both my parents are freakin’ scientists, of course I want to know the “why” of everything. It’s not as if I want to be a thorn in everyone’s butt.

God.

So she gets here and waves that CD of hers, flashing it while she smiles like a huckster. Before I can slap her hand away she stuffs it into the radio and starts doing that stupid dance of hers. She does this thing where she kinda’ points to the sky. Repeatedly, like she’s trying to poke holes in the roof. Allison always follows it up with a fist pump. That doesn’t change today as she switches into her awkward hip thrusts. I’ve said I’m not a dancer, but Allison can make you go blind with her moves.

Still, it’s funny, you know? I can dig it. Kinda’. I don’t mind embarrassing myself as long as it’s just her, so I go to my signature move, this sort of walking head bob. Hey, it’s the best I can get done with these stumpy legs of mine, okay? Anyway, the situation… it’s fine. Good, quality embarrassment between friends. If you can’t make a shameful sight in front of your best friend, who else are you going to embarrass yourself in front of?

So we wrap it up after the sweat on our foreheads makes it abundantly apparent we’re not in the sort of shape to be dancing erratically for more than, hm, five minutes. Not that I complain when we switch the CD off. Still, we’re laughing as I collapse into the chair across from her. “Pretty good stuff,” I say as I bury my face in my hands. “Just as long as nobody else sees it.”

“Nah, you know me,” she replies with that almost patented grin of hers. Allison’s always had this freakishly large smile and it seems to stand out even against her light skin and blonde hair. God, that hair of hers is so straight. Every time I try to do my best to flatten mine it’s like fighting against a jungle. Anyway, she gestures at the radio. “Hand it over will ya’?”

“Yeah sure,” I say as I reach back, ejecting the CD and tossing it like a weapon.

She lets out this banshee scream as she slaps her hands around it. “Jackie! You know how rare these things are? It’s not like we can just get another one.”

“You’ve already backed it up to the network haven’t you?” I ask, nodding to the computer.

“Of course I have, but that’s not the point. These things are one of a kind. Not like the Scavengers find these every day.”

“Yeah, seems like the further down the tower they go the less we see of this stuff.”

She shrugs. “Hey, they’ve been bringing back a lot more food lately. Not going to complain about that.”

“Guess you’re right,” I reply. “I’m kinda’ looking forward to this next Scavenging. “

“Aren’t we all? I mean, I’m already getting my banners ready. Oh, that reminds me, I need you to come by to help me glue the letters to it. I managed to trade some makeup for glitter the other day. That’s going to make for an awesome sign to hang in the hallway.”

I wave her off. “Yeah, yeah, you know I’m gonna’ be there. Dork.” She seems oblivious to my point, though. “Anyway, about looking forward to this Scavenging... It just seems like they’re having to go a lot deeper into the tower than they used to, you know? I’m just, I dunno’, interested in seeing if they find anything. Anything not food, I mean. Something important.”

“Jackie, are you seriously still on about this?”

I look at her with a ferociously perturbed glare as I hold my palms up. “What am I on, Allison? I’m just saying.”

“I know Jackie, I know, the problem is you’re always saying the same thing and you know what can happen if you get too nosy. I mean, do you really want to end up going to Reinforcement?”

“For what? Asking questions?”

“Well…?” She shrugs and nods like I should know the answer. “Jackie, there’s nothing below. This is all we have and we live pretty good here.”

“I’m sorry, did I imagine it or weren’t we just talking about having to decide between food and watching a movie, like that’s a decision that should be normal. Allison, the poor people in the movies we watch have more going for them than we do.”

“But that’s fantasy, and you’re only hurting yourself by focusing so much on them.”

So I’m just all sorts of righteously pissed off because I’m used to hearing this stuff from everyone, but Allison’s supposed to have my back. “Fine. Whatever. Guess I won’t bother thinking about having a life even slightly better than this miserable crapsack we live in.”

“Aren’t you being dramatic?”

I stab her with my eyes. “What did you say?”

“Jackie, I just mean there’s no point in trying to get below Floor 21.”

“Since when did I say that? I’m not asking to go there, I’m just saying I think we can do a little better than just sitting around waiting for the Creep to come get us. All I want to do is ask a few questions without having to worry about getting hauled off by Security.”

Her eyebrows raise like warning flags. “Yeah well, Jackie, your behavior could end up getting everyone ‘hauled off’ so maybe you should think about toning it down. You’re at an eleven and I need you to bring it down to an eight.”

“I can’t deal with this,” I say as I get out of the chair. “Dance party over.”

“Calm down now-“

“Hey, I’m calm, got it?” I ask as I lean my head toward the door. “Maybe I just want to take a nap.”

“Fine,” she replies as she darts past me, the floor clicking underneath her as she steps into the hall. “Call me when you feel like being a grown up about this.”

“Are you freakin’ kidding me?” I demand as the door closes behind her. Immediately I turn around and go limp, my body collapsing like a bundle of wet towels into the couch. My utterly exasperated scream is muffled by the mountain of pillows I’ve burrowed into. Thank God, wouldn’t want mom’s crazy coming in here to pile on top of Allison’s.

Anyway, a few hours later I’ve calmed down, but I still haven’t forgiven Allison. Oh no. That’s going to have to wait until I’ve had time to head to the baseball field to hit a few balls around. And probably break a bat.

 

Recording Six.

Can I just state, for the record, that Mrs. Bloom has no frickin’ idea about what happened before The Before? I’d rather someone just tell me they don’t know something instead of pretending like they do.

That’s the thing, though. Everyone in the tower acts like they know something about the world before The Darkness. Mr. McCauley at least comes up with stuff nobody else does, but Mrs. Bloom tried to convince me today that we had flying cars and cities above the clouds. I’ve seen movies, Mrs. Bloom. Whatever happened before The Before, we didn’t have any of those. Cars? Sure. Plenty of those. Trains? Okay, I’ve seen those. But cities that fly in the sky? Give me a break.

Someone was filming a long time ago, that’s why we have these movies in the first place, and none of the movies have flying cities.

Anyway, I got really frustrated with that conversation, but I get really frustrated with everyone these days. As if yesterday’s argument with Allison isn’t example numero uno about that, I’ve got some people lying to me about what happened before the tower and others that don’t care.

And did I mention that Tommy tried to ask me out? I nearly decked him across the face. He knows I think he’s a toolbag and way too much of a jockstrap for me to ever be interested in. I just don’t get it. Tommy’s asking me out, Allison’s picking fights with me. Like what the hell, life?


AUTHOR Q&A

About me

I have written previously and have at various times been employed as a sports journalist, an academic writer and a contracted writer with Blizzard Entertainment. My life has taken me through many jobs, degrees and into a life where i can happily write about concept I'm passionate about.

Q. What is the inspiration for the story?
A.
Some time ago I saw a scene in The Walking Dead series in which a young woman rappelled down an elevator shaft, daring to brave zombie horrors and escape back to her friends. At that moment I wondered, "What if she 'd always lived in the building?" That was the moment of inspiration.
Q. Is there a message in your book that you want readers to grasp?
A.
Memory is important. Our memories shape not only what we are, but how we perceive others. Hiding from the past just prolongs a painful present.
Q. What was the hardest part of writing this book?
A.
The hardest part of the book was nailing Jackie. The first draft was easy, but keeping her voice consistent when I added more dialogue was hard. I wanted her to be a feisty young teenage girl trapped in a dismal situation, because I think the most horrific things are average circumstances gone bad.

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