I would have died for my village. I know a lot of people weren't too fond of theirs; but me, I'd have done anything for mine. We were out of the way, and the Ministry Officials hardly ever came to visit. We were mostly left to our own devices, our own business, and I liked that. My mother was the librarian, and I liked that even more. I liked the books, and I liked reading.
I also liked having paper. Paper was rare for the other villages, or at least, that's what I'd heard, but not for mine. And whenever anyone had scraps, they always brought 'em to me. It was awfully kind of them, though sometimes I gave the paper to John, who lived in the cottage on the edge of town, when I did the water rounds. He was a writer, and he appreciated the contribution.
But my favorite part of the day was just locking myself in my bedroom, with the light from only my lamp, and drawing away. I liked that. I drew my mother, mostly, because she was the most beautiful, courageous person I knew. Sometimes she told me stories about The War, before people had to live in the villages, even though that was against the rules.
I remember, when I was really young, just six or so, sneaking into her bed one night after a nightmare.
"Tell me about television, will you, Mum?"
"You always want to hear about that, don't you? I'm telling you, Dean, of all the conveniences we've lost because of . . . well, just because, television ranks quite low."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Well," she whispered, "we got off pretty lucky. Duhumval is a good village. And the people are kind, and we're never want for food or water. We're lucky, Dean, and don't you forget that."
"I won't," I promised back, though I could tell there was more Mum wanted to say. She hugged me very tightly, and then she said,
"We're not allowed to talk about before; at least, I must be very careful. They listen in."
"They?" I asked, because I didn't know what she was talking about. Not then.
"They put . . . I don't know what word I can get away with here, sweetheart. If I say a wrong word, they'll come."
"Who?" I asked, wondering why I had come to my mother after that nightmare after all, and wondering why my mother, who was one of the most eloquent people I knew, was suddenly lost for words.
"The Oppressors," my mother said in a grim voice. "They're the ones who did this to us. And they're the ones we can't fight back."
I didn't understand that at six. I still don't really understand it now.
Everything started to change as I grew older. I noticed that I could do things. Things I had no explanation for being able to do. Things like erase mistakes I'd made while drawing. Things like close the door behind me just by thinking about it.
They were odd things, but I never brought them up. The Opressors didn't like 'odd things.' It was best to keep your head down, as far as I knew.
And that's what I did, until the night of my eleventh birthday.
The village barn smelled, and I hated to go there, but I had to water the horses, and I had to water the goats. I'd put it off until after dinner. Our cottage was small and smelled like home. It was to be the last night I'd ever see it.
My mother was staring at me with an odd expression.
"What? Do I have something on my face?"
My mother shook her head, and just continued to rinse the dishes. I still remember the way she looked; she's doomed for all time to look like that.
I stared back at her, and I wanted to say something, but I didn't know what. Eventually she said, "Shouldn't you be going to the stables?"
I nodded. I grabbed my water bucket. I left.
I wish I could say that there was something inside me, telling me not to leave the house, but there wasn't. I wish I kissed my mother goodbye; I wish I had told her I loved her just one last time. I wish a lot of things.
I went to the barn. I filled the watering trays. Hecate was anxious. She kept pacing her pen. The mare was supposed to have bred by now, but she'd not taken. If she was infertile, like they thought, they'd have to put her down.
"Calm down, girl, will you?" I felt bad for her, but there was no reason for her to make my job harder. She kept neighing and kicking and tossing head toward the empty pen across from her, like there was something she wanted me to see. "Calm down!" I told her. "You're being mad!"
I hadn't lit the lamps; I'd seen no reason to. I knew the barn like the back of my hand at this point. I wish I had. Maybe I would've seen them coming; maybe I would've seen their shadows on the wall.
At any rate, all I remember is a woman shouting, "Stupefy!" and then everything, my whole world, went black.