Today might be a bad day.
I have a terrible headache- one that throbs so intensely, I imagine that a little man is inside there, beating at the inside of my forehead as hard as he can; his fists are tiny, but he has a lot of strength. And it really hurts.
Every day, I count how many bad things happen. If three or more bad things happen during my day, it’s officially a bad day. The headache is strike one.
I fumble around for my glasses. They’re not on my bedside table. Have they fallen on the floor again? Yes they have. Mum has been insisting we save up to get me an eye optimising operation, so I don’t have to wear glasses, but I don’t want to. I like wearing them. They’re almost part of me.
I get changed. I don’t think much about what I wear. I just grab whatever I feel like wearing. Today, I choose a plain black t-shirt, with some jeans, and a silver bracelet I bought from the marketplace. The woman who sold to me looked ancient, and very skinny- she seemed almost dead. Some Neutrals, unlike us, really struggle to survive.
I go downstairs. As soon as I descend, I grasp the scent of cooking dough, and the sound of something fizzing in a pan. That can only mean one thing: Mum is making pancakes. She only makes pancakes when it's a special day. But what day is it? Darn it! Why do I always forget these things? I try to search for the right memory, but it's caught up in so many others- it's like trying to catch a snowflake in a blizzard.
She turns round and sends me a weak smile. "Morning, Ember."
"Morning, Mum," I say and sit down at the table.
Mum continues to stare at the frying pan. Her fair hair, which is normally well-brushed and glossy, is limp, and seems almost tired. She turns round to look at me, and I notice that her face matches her hair. She looks a lot older than usual. Has something happened? Is that why she's baking pancakes?
"Do you remember what day it is today?" she asks.
"I guess so."
She takes a plate and slides a pancake onto it, then places it in front of me. I don't bother to get any cutlery- I instantly cram it into my mouth. I haven't had pancakes since mine and Donald's birthday. I expect Mum to criticize my eating habits, but she appears to not notice. Is it because of what is happening today?
"Mum, what did I forget?"
"I'm surprised you forgot."
"Is it my birthday again?"
"No," she says, not turning from the stove.
"Then what is it?"
Before she can reply, Donald saunters into the kitchen. We're twins, but we look nothing alike. He has his mother's hair, whilst my hair is a scarlet red. He also has green eyes, not blue eyes like mine, which I got from our mother. I suspect that our father had- or has- green eyes. My mother never mentions my father. I have no idea what he looks like. I don't even know whether he died, or just left her. I asked her once, but she just suddenly went quiet, and stayed in a trance-like state for the rest of the day.
He smirks. “Your head is on fire again.”
He always makes fun of my hair. Everyone does, actually. There was one phase where everyone said that I was a serial killer and my hair was dyed red with the blood of my victims.
“Good morning, Donald Duck,” I say.
Of course he wouldn't know. Donald isn't into old culture as much as I am. In fact, I don't think anyone is.
Donald sits down on the table, flashing a cocky grin. "I suppose my dear sister has forgotten what day it is today."
I don't reply.
"It's The Test today," he says.
"The Test!?" I scream. Donald jolts as I say this. Mum does not react. "Are you being serious?!"
"It is today," Mum says, putting a pancake on a plate for Donald.
"Oh, f*ck! How could I forget?"
"Don't swear, Ember," Mum says calmly.
"Today is the day you find out if you're good or bad," Donald says. "The Test is designed to choose whether you're a Villain or a Hero. Once you get your results, you are labelled as either a Villain or a Hero, and treated depending on that label."
"Why the heck are you saying this to me?!" I say. "I know this!"
"I thought you would have forgotten that too," he says. "I bet you'll be a Villain."
"No, you will, you dickhead!"
"Calm down," Mum says, placing Donald's pancake in front of him. "You're both Heroes, in my eyes."
"Why can't I just be a Neutral, like you?" I ask her.
"Because I want you to at least have a chance of a good wage- enough money to live in luxury, to be happy."
"The money you get isn't bad! It's not as low as a Villain's."
"It's not as good as a Hero's one. This house..." She stares up at the cracked ceiling, the chipped paint, the dusty window. "This house is not perfect. The stuff you have isn't perfect."
"I don't want everything to be perfect!" I say. "I like this house!"
"I want you to have the opportunity I didn't. If you don't take The Test at this age... that's your chance gone. You can't take The Test if you're not eighteen."
"What if I get Villain? Can't I choose to be Neutral rather than Villain?"
Donald laughs. "Seriously? Didn't they tell you?”
"Maybe, but I didn't listen."
"Well," he says. "You can't just change your status after The Test. You can't retake it either- it would make things too complicated."
I hate it when Donald corrects me.
"When is it?" I ask.
"Your appointment is at half eight," Mum says.
"What? That's in half an hour!"
"Be grateful- some people have to get up in the very early morning. Donald is straight after you."
"First the worst," Donald jeers.
"Oh, shut up!" I snap.
I leave, stomping as hard as I can up the stairs and slamming my bedroom door behind me to express my frustration.
How could I forget? They must have mentioned it at school. I'll check my calendar- if I was a Hero, I would have a digital projection system to show the date. So... let's see... Of course! Today is the anniversary of the day the Divider party came into power. That's the day they have the Test every year. How could I forget?
I reach into my drawer beside my bed and pull out my favourite book. Printed books are hard to come by nowadays, but this is a very old one. It’s called All About Politics. As it was written a long time ago, it talks about the government before the Divider party took over. I do enjoy reading it- I find it very interesting, and dream of a world like those days, when people could have their say in who they wanted ruling them. However, I prefer to draw in it. The pages and margins are decorated with my artwork- colours and faces and scribbles peering up at me from the page. My drawings are almost part of me.
I take out my colouring pencils and start to draw. Like with the calendar, there are digital ones, but we can't afford them. I prefer the feel of the real thing anyway. I like how the pencil whispers, as if it is talking to me. I like how the drawing can't be deleted- even if you rip it up, or throw it away, there's still traces of it. I like how the graphite crumbles onto the paper, as if my worries and fears are doing the same.
I draw a picture of Donald, laughing and laughing at me. I then draw my mother, looking really old and tired. I draw the Divider symbol- a circle with one half that is a moon, and the other that is the sun. I draw myself, screaming.
Then, I draw a man- a man with green eyes like Donald, and red hair like mine.
I stare and stare at it. I'm surprised at how detailed I made it. His eyes are hard, staring, just like Donald's. His hair is all over the place, and the colour of blood, just like mine. And his jawline is harsh and square... like mine. I would have thought my father looked like Donald, but he looks more like an older, male version of me.
It just... seems so vivid, so... realistic. As if... I drew it from memory.
Does that mean my father left- or died- when Donald and I had already been born?
No... my memory is terrible. I can't have remembered him. I've probably just got a really good imagination.
"Ember!" Donald's voice echoes through the door. "It's time to go!"
Before I head downstairs, I glance at the drawing one last time, close the book, and put it away.