The world may be stricken with misery and suffering, but at least the blessed few who live inside the city are happy. With the invention of a revolutionary new antidepressant named BLISS, the Government can finally award happiness, compliance and coexistence to whoever uses it. Of course, it comes at a price - your free will.



I stopped dead in my tracks, my arms and legs falling limply to my sides as shock swiftly overpowered hysteria. The Miserable laughed, their voice low and throaty, before removing their hand from my mouth, keeping an arm looped loosely around my waist in case I tried anything.


“What the hell do you mean?” I whispered, trying to turn around and catch a glimpse of the stranger’s face. They simply chuckled again, the sound louder and crueller than before.


“I mean I’m an outsider, genius. I work for the Misery and you’re coming back with me,” they replied, removing their other arm and stepping into the dim light that the overhead bulbs provided. The stranger was wearing matte black cargo pants, a tight-fitting tank top and what seemed to be a military-style dog tag around their neck, their lower face covered completely by a blood-red bandana. They had eyes harder and more emotionless than I’d ever seen before, their irises tinted a mottled grey not unlike a wolf’s pelt.


“Thanks to your little hissy fit, security’s probably figured out all’s not well down here. We’ve gotta get going if you don’t want to get strapped to a chair and probed by those doctors,” the Miserable said, moving towards the door and motioning impatiently for me to follow. Before I had time to react, however, an emergency alarm sprung to life in a cacophony of grinding, screeching and metal against metal, the noise momentarily shutting down my brain as I clawed at my ears. The Miserable sighed and grabbed my wrist, tugging me out of the small, dimly-lit room and into the horrible yellow corridor.


“We’ve gotta run like hell, you hear me?” they yelled, ripping the tape away and leading me down one of the restricted corridors, their palm sliding into mine and towing me along. The alarm continued to blare from the speakers, red lights flashing from the security cameras on the ceiling as they buzzed angrily, the lenses following us as we ran for our lives.


Confusion ate at my stomach and threatened to overwhelm me, so I pushed the sea of thoughts to the side for now and focused solely on escaping the Government compound. Everything had happened so quickly that I hadn't had any time to move from one event to another; the surprise evaluation, the dead examiner, the Miserable, our hurried escape - it all blended together into one confusing mass of sorrow and fear and nausea that I had barely had time to deal with. Only ten minutes ago I had believed I’d been walking to my execution, and now I was apparently escaping the city with a strange person claiming to be a Miserable.




I looked up, peering into the hallway ahead at whatever the Miserable had spotted. My stomach sank as the sight of two armed guards swam into view, their faces just as grim and worn as the official who’d called me in for my examination. The Miserable dug a hand into a pocket on their cargo pants and, retrieving what looked suspiciously like a gun, charged forwards, leaving me behind to do nothing but stand and watch.


They took on the male guard first, sending his own gun skidding across the floor and shooting him square in the face. I watched in stunned silence as his brains splattered against the wall behind him, his lifeless body crumpling silently to the floor. The female guard cried out and clutched her gun even tighter in raw white knuckles, aiming it at the Miserable. However, she buckled to the ground in pain before she had a chance to shoot, blood oozing from a bullet wound in her thigh and staining the fabric of her bright, ridiculously colourful uniform. Before she could try and return fire the Miserable sent another bullet flying through her chest, the woman collapsing in a gurgling heap beside her friend.


I leant forward and threw up the contents of my stomach, warm tears streaming down my face as I vomited until I thought I was about to pass out. Only then did I stagger to my feet, grabbing onto the Miserable’s arm as they helped me upright. I hated them more than I had ever hated anyone in that moment, but I knew arguments and tears would get us nowhere so I simply forced myself run, my hand once again clinging to theirs.


“Why… why did you kill them?” I sobbed, my voice shaky and barely audible. We’d been running for a good ten minutes now and I was hoping we were nearing the exit, although the Miserable showed no sign of slowing down.


“Because the two corpses in that hallway would be ours if I hadn’t,” they replied, barely looking at me or even bothering to slow down as they spoke. Hatred bubbled up in my chest once more, fierce and dangerously potent, but I swallowed it back down again, made it wait for once we’d escaped. We continued running, the Miserable navigating the maze-like compound and me following as best as I could, desperately trying to keep up.  


After what seemed like an eternity of running we finally began to slow, the neon glow of an emergency exit sign just visible at the end of the corridor. The Miserable’s eyes crinkled into what I took for a smile, their face becoming just a little softer to look at.


“Once you leave the city, you will never be able to turn back.”


I froze, breath catching in my throat as I felt the Miserable’s hand tighten against mine. The voice seemed to be coming from everywhere at once, its words cutting effortlessly through the screech of the security alarm and burning themselves into my mind.


“BLISS can keep you happy and safe, Ms Dai. Isn’t that what you want?” the woman asked, her tone laced with gentle, almost motherly compassion. I could hear the Miserable panting beside me, their breath shallow and laboured from the constant running.


“Your whole family are here in the city - if you abandon them now, will you ever forgive yourself? Do you not love them?”


I hadn’t even thought about my family. Guilt overwhelmed me as I imagined the look on my parents’ face as they were told that their daughter had gone missing, most likely kidnapped or killed by a Miserable, and that there was nothing they could do. I couldn’t bring myself to wonder how Shion would react - would he be sad, confused or angry that his big sister left them without so much as a parting word? Would my disappearance haunt him forever, booking him a one-way ticket to a life as miserable and lonely as mine?


A deep, animalistic sob ripped through me, tears pooling at my eyes and chasing each other down my cheeks. The woman spoke no more, but she didn’t need to - her point had been more than made. I knew then that I wasn’t going anywhere with this faceless, nameless murderer, no matter how many examinations or assessments they rescued me from. I refused to leave my family behind, even if it meant I had to be taken away to a correctional centre or locked away for life.


“Hey, we have to go!” the Miserable cried, pulling me the rest of the way down the corridor and towards the emergency exit. I just let them tug me along, my mind already set in stone.


It took only a moment of awkward jostling and a small push for the door to swing open, a rush of cool spring air welcomed by my sweating, exhausted body and flushed skin. The Miserable practically staggered into the murky alleyway, untying the bandana that masked their face and inhaling a lungful of fresh oxygen. I stepped out of the hallway and onto the darkened cement, leaning heavily against the building’s wall as I caught my breath.


“Are you okay?” the Miserable asked, turning to face me properly as they spoke. I looked upwards, letting my eyes unashamedly explore the stranger’s face now that I finally had the time and energy. I already knew that they had short brown hair and stone grey eyes, but the effeminate curve of their lips and the subtle roundness that smudged their otherwise blade-sharp jaw told me that she was probably a woman. Although her face was tired and resembled that of the guards I’d seen earlier, I could tell she probably wasn’t much older than me.


“I’m fine,” I answered, my voice clipped and blunt. The Miserable didn’t reply immediately, instead gazing at me with a closed, unreadable expression that made my skin crawl.


“Are you going to come with me nice and easy, or do I have to drag you out of here kicking and screaming?” she asked finally, her arms folding stubbornly across her chest. Glad to see she was just as blunt and forthcoming as I was.


“I don’t care if you saved me, I’m still not going anywhere with you. I’m not leaving my family,” I replied. Her mouth turned up in a grim half-smile as her gaze fell to the floor, the muscles in her fingers twitching ever-so-slightly.“I’m sorry, but I don’t have any other choice. This is the only way,” I whispered, my fingers wrapping around my phone and drawing it slowly out of my jean pocket. The girl’s face paled as she read the caller ID, a small sense of satisfaction bubbling in my chest as she began to back away, her eyes searching desperately for an exit in the dead-end alley. “I’m sure the police are already on their way, Miserable. Don’t bother trying to escape.”


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