The doorbell rang just as the family was sitting down to dinner. They weren’t expecting anyone, so Miriam pulled out her tablet to look at the doorbell app. It was a delivery courier. With a sigh she rose and went to answer the door herself, unsure what could be coming so late at night. She opened the door and gave a small polite smile, the kind of smile she reserved for unwanted visitors and salespeople who are too pushy.
The courier standing on the rubberized solar mat in front of her door simply asked her to verify the address and handed her a small square package, holding his tablet up to scan her face for verification of delivery. She blinked and looked at the label then opened her mouth to speak but the courier had already turned away and was walking briskly back down the short flight of stairs leading to the sidewalk outside. The puffy square mailer was light enough to be empty and didn’t make a sound as she carried it to the dining room and placed it on the slim oak sideboard she’d inherited from her grandmother years ago.
“What was that mom?” her son asked in between bites of his food. Miriam sat down and placed her napkin in her lap before taking a sip of her wine.
“Your Uncle got a package.” She said, picking up her fork and looking across the table to where her brother sat. He raised an eyebrow, but she didn’t say anything more, tucking into her dinner with a focus that dissuaded conversation.
The package sat on the table, very much the center of attention despite being out of most of their direct line of sight. Politeness dictated that they finish dinner first. It belonged to her brother, and no one could ask about it without seeming rude. Yet it was there. Miriam made a show of eating, chewing deliberately slow, savoring each bite, and swallowing without pause; her eyes fixed either on her plate or on the wall above her brother’s shoulder. Levi sighed, putting down his fork and rising to go see what it was. His hand began to tremble the moment he saw the label, but he clenched his fingers and snatched the package up before he could lose his nerve.
With his back to the room, he opened it, saw the slim box, and neatly folded letter and closed his eyes, unwilling to take the last few steps but knowing he had to. Steeling himself he unfolded the letter and read the three short lines then used the tip of one finger to pry off the lid on the box and peek inside before shoving everything back into the mailer and returning to his seat.
“What was it Dodh Levi?” James asked as his uncle took a long sip of his water and resumed eating.
“My locket came, it would seem our time together is at an end.” Miriam made a low noise that sounded a lot like a curse but didn’t stop eating, It was clear she wanted to pretend things were normal.
“This is the Calling Year for balance right? And everyone with the locket has to go away?” James said nodding as he spoke, reciting the words like he’d learned them- tonelessly and precise. As if something so terrible could bypass normal human emotions.
“That’s right,” Levi replied pushing his food around his plate.
“Where does everyone go?” James asked and his mother made a low hissing noise that made him look at her instead of his uncle.
“Well, they never told us that part. They just told us that you had to go but not always, so maybe he doesn’t have to go right? If we tell them we don’t want him to?” James said but his mother was already shaking her head.
“It is a rare thing to get a locket and get to stay. Only the wealthy or important ever get to pass their lockets to another. Each locket must have a person.” Miriam said, rising to clear the table and give herself some time. Time. Something they took for granted usually. Now the clock had run out.
“Uncle Levi is important.”
“To us. Not to the world. You must be important to the world for the locket to pass.” Miriam said as her eyes began to fill. She turned away and walked into the kitchen, the unfairness of the situation turning into a hot ball of anger and despair that lodged itself in her throat and threatened to choke her.
“Even if I was I couldn’t little one. My locket is Gold.” Miriam gasped as her fingers went numb with shock and the plates she held clattered to the floor.
“Gold!!” she shook her head as rage stole the ability to speak for a moment.
“Every ten years! And somehow it is the poor and unconnected who end up culled without even the option to pass their locket to another. Meanwhile the rich linger on, draining the world of every bit of life. Growing old, enjoying their families.”
“Don’t stir up tsuris Miriam. It is my time. I have lived a good life. We do our part. We accept the Call. So, there is a future, so we hold back the end and turn the tide.”
“Seems to me it is only the ones who don’t cause the leaks who end up being the bricks used to fix the dam.” Miriam said but nodded, stooping to pick up the platters and clean the mess when Levi shook his head again.
“Where do they go Dodh.”
“Every year when people reach their 69th birthday they receive their locket. And on the Calling Year those with lockets go to the Culling field. There they are reclaimed and used to plant a forest to heal the planet.” Levi said, putting a nice face on the fact of his death. Omitting the fact that those with gold lockets aren’t always only the old. Some people got a locket for other reasons and didn’t always get to wait until the Calling Year. Some went to the culling field the moment their use to society ended. Because of catastrophic illness or making the wrong enemies. His locket should have been silver. He should have another ten years but no.
“I don’t want you to go Dodh, but I am glad you will make the balance. It’s how we make things right.” James said, eyes shining with tears and something else. Fanaticism? Faith? Levi didn’t know but he caught his sister’s eyes over the boy’s head and frowned. She shook her head and he nodded, knowing that the schools made sure to teach them why this was needed. Why they came up with this way to control the population and reverse the damage to the planet. But the cost was steep. And the irony steeper. The system is so fair, so just. So, rigged.
“I don’t want to go either James, but I will. As will you one day. So tomorrow, I will put on my locket and go. You and your mother will kiss me goodbye and remember me. And in a few years, maybe you come see my tree yes?”
James nodded and Miriam turned to go back into the kitchen to cry. She’d never hated anything as much as she hated those lockets.
About the author
Hi all I'm K.T. Seto and I play what if. I write Speculative Fiction with a paranormal bent and joined Vocal as a way to write stories that aren't tied to my other works.Vocal is for the odd bits that don't fit, so hang on for the ride.