As I walked home from school, I passed a group of rioters and protesters outside of the capital building, screaming about privacy and getting into fights with business people going home after work. I scrambled to the other side of the street, knowing that the police would be there soon, and I certainly didn’t want to be taken for as a protester. Of course, if they checked my channel they could see that I in fact had just been walking home, but waiting in the police department while they went through my channel proved to be an inconvenience I wanted to avoid.
I’d never had a run in with the law. In fact, most people hadn’t had a run in with the law since 2035, the year that all crime was eliminated for good, except for riots. We all lived normal lives. Bland lives. Lives without excitement for fear of someone turning to our channel and spying on our most inner secrets.
No one had secrets anymore.
In fact, no one had much of anything anymore, including children. Imagine how embarrassing it would be to find that someone had watched you and your beloved try for a baby. The only upside was the rapid decrease in rapists, who spent most of their days at home, flipping through channels, searching.
Most of them found nothing, but the hope of it was enough to sate their needs.
When I got home, the first thing I did was turn on the television to the news station. One is left to wonder why the world has news stations when you can watch news happening any time you want. This is why the news station was more of a gossip show that analyzed people’s channels and caught up those of us who tried not to spy on everyone’s personal lives.
They were discussing a popular channel.
“Gretchen Gomarky is so scandalous,” one reporter started. “Did you see who’s she’s dating now? Trent Baylis from channel 21. In my opinion, they make an excellent couple.” The more popular your channel was, the lower the number it became. Gretchen Gomarky’s channel was number 5.
My channel was 8,605,402.
“I disagree,” another reporter started. “Gretchen can do way better than Trent. In fact, I think she should get back with Finn Coal.” Finn’s channel is 3. My little sister came in just then, sitting down at the table to see what was going on. Like me, she was irritated with the way our lives were broadcast for everyone to see. Unlike me though, she adored the gossip. She tucked her hands under her chin and watched the station with glazed eyes.
I cleared my throat. “Linley. What do you want for dinner?” She waved her hand in a ‘so, so’ manner and ignored me. I sighed. “How was school today?”
“Hn?” She murmured. I glared at her and clicked the TV off. “Hey!” She whined.
“What do you want for dinner?”
“I don’t care!” I crossed my arms over my chest.
“Don’t be a brat.”
“I’m not being a brat.” She turned the TV back on. I headed to the pantry grudgingly, deciding I’d pick dinner myself. If she didn’t like it, it was her problem. I pulled out a box of pasta.
“Did you do your homework?” She ignored me. “Linley! Did you do your homework?” Still silence. I marched towards the TV, turning it off and holding the remote. “Did you do your homework?” I asked icily.
“Can you stop being so uptight? I’ll get it done!”
“If you want to act like this, you can go live with mom!” Her face froze, and I crossed my arms over my chest once more.
“Fine, maybe I will,” she said angrily, her cheeks turning red. I sat down at the table, placing the remote behind my back.
“Well if you want your whole life to be consumed by channels, go ahead.”
“I didn’t say that!”
“Then stop acting like it! It’s not right the way people’s lives are just put out there for everyone to see. And if you hate the way they broadcast our lives, then you shouldn’t indulge in others. It’s contradicting.” She sighed and flipped her hair.
“Why is it that you can have your interests, but when I have interests you don’t agree with, you want me to go live with mom?”
“Because if you don’t want to grow up like the nice kid you should be, then I’m sure mom can help you out. But I just hate it when you don’t appreciate the nice family atmosphere I’m trying to give you. The channels are wrong. I want you to grow up knowing that.”
“Sheesh, I’m not a little kid Cressida.” She dipped her had back over the chair, staring upside down at the wall I hung with my paintings. “Anything from mom?”
“No messages, no phone calls, nothing.” She exhaled slowly.
“I guess I expected it.” I patted her hand.
“Don’t be disappointed.” Her hands flailed as she started, exasperated.
“I’m always disappointed! When is she going to care about anything but her stupid channel?” Belinda Gold, my mother, is number 1 on the channels. When I told her I didn’t want to lead her type of lifestyle, I took Linley and left. My brother Ezra stayed with her. His channel is number 2. She huffed and pulled her backpack up on the table, pulling out folders and pencils. “I just want her to care,” she muttered as she checked her homework sheet.
“Me too,” I said with a sad smile, standing up and heading back to the pantry.
Dinner that night was full of conversation. Mostly Linley’s. I was glad to see her warming up by the end of the night. Instead of mindless chatter though, we talked about politics and world dilemmas, like the rapid population decrease. Linley may be twelve years old, but she’s very smart. That’s something I always appreciated about her. If she matured and stopped watching the channels, I’d say she’s even a miniature me.
“Just think,” she said over her pasta. “We’re the last people on Earth.”
“That’s not totally true,” I say. “One baby is born about every day.”
“But think about how many people are dying. Do you think those babies will have babies? Do you think they’ll be comfortable with that? Because there are less and less channels each day. Soon there will be so little that we’ll have viewed everyone’s channel at least once. And if those babies are going to have babies, you know people will watch.”
“It’s for the better of mankind.”
“Let’s just hope they aren’t stupid, self-conscious babies.” We laughed. Suddenly, Linley’s face became serious. “Cressida?” I looked up, my eyes turning somber. “Do you think mom will ever...you know...come back and see us?” My eyes started to water, and I wiped the tears from them before they could fall.
“Some days Linley...” I swallowed the lump in my throat. “I really hope not.”
“But do you think--”
“No, I don’t.” Linley looked away from me, at the wall full of my paintings, a deep sadness in her eyes that one should never have to see in a twelve year old girl. The way she looked broke my heart. “But just know that I love you,” I said, standing and grabbing my plate off of the table. “Forever and always I will love you.”
It was 3 am when I received a call on my phone, which I haphazardly picked up, groaning. “Hello?”
“Hello my dearest Crescent. I’m not interrupting anything, am I?” I started, sitting up and gripping the phone in my hand.
“You have some nerve calling me.”
“Listen Cress, I know I’m not the best mother in the world, but--”
“No. No I won’t do you a favor, no I won’t let you talk to Linley, no I won’t pass on any messages. You haven’t call me in three weeks. That’s 21 days. And all of those 21 days I had to watch Linley’s heart break. You have no right to call yourself a mother.”
“I know, I know. But it’s not about Linley this time. It’s about Ezra. He’s in the hospital.”
“Why?” I asked, confused.
“Alcohol poisoning,” my mother sobbed.
“I can’t say I’m surprised. You and Ezra have exciting lives. It’s because of you that the government won’t take down the channels and the population is dying. Because you’re making them money.”
“Call me when you have something better to talk about.” I hung up. Just then, Linley poked her head through the door.
“Cress? Was that mom?” I sigh, my shoulders slumping.
“Yeah, yeah it was.”
“What was wrong?”
“Ezra is in the hospital.”
“Oh.” Linley bit her lip unsurely, staring at the floor. “Why?”
“I just got a news feed report.”
“Yeah? What did it say?”
“The population is down to 1 billion people.”
“1 billion...” I said. “That means we can move out of the ruins.”
Three years ago, the crime rate was so high that you couldn’t go out on a suburban street without fear of getting mugged or raped. Sometimes vicious gangs controlled whole towns, and the ones their rival gangs owned they tore to the ground. Architectures tried hard to salvage what they could, but all they managed to do was make two bedroom houses surrounded by rubble, but now that their were less people, in fact, most people spent so much time watching channels and living in fear that they either forgot to feed themselves or committed suicide, we could afford better housing.
1 billion people left.
“I’m not worried about housing!” She said. “Think about...Think about all those people! Dead...” I sigh and beckon her to my bed, where she snuggles into my arms.
“There’s nothing we can do about it now. It’s just the world we live in.”
“That doesn’t make it right.”
“Nothing about the world is right.” She kicks the end bed post in frustration.
“Why couldn’t the world have been different? Without drugs and violence, maybe all those people wouldn’t be dead. Maybe mom wouldn’t have left us...” She trails off. She shuts the light off. “Goodnight Cress.” I kiss her temple.