by: Catherine Sorrentino
Writing, like any art, is often a tool of protest and social activism. Speculative fiction and plays allow for creative writing to challenge, rather than uphold, our current circumstances. In a recent Worldbuilding Intensive hosted by author Jelani Wilson and PYP teaching artist Mr Stine, young writers were given the opportunity to imagine fantastical and futuristic worlds to examine our present. Below I’ll be sharing my own work and the way that the Intensive inspired me.
When I began the Worldbuilding Intensive, the other participants and I were encouraged to draw from societal issues. Together, we created a dystopian world where, in the aftermath of global war and disease, technology has emerged as the backbone of society. I imagined a world of constant surveillance and unmitigated innovation, where technology has been pushed to extreme uses, even replacing human law enforcement. After I finished brainstorming, that world didn’t feel far away from the world we live in now. This seemed to suit the tension and watermelon of a mystery thriller, and I wrote about a young man accused of and arrested for a crime he didn’t commit. What follows is the beginning of that story.
Writing by Catherine Sorrentino (CLICK READ MORE ----->)
Sam didn’t know how long the body had laid there before he saw it. On rainy nights like these, the tech patrols were more vicious and more frequent, so he avoided the wide, clear streets and chanced the back alleys. He was forever creeping through the skeletons of bombed out buildings and rubble, all of which loomed over him, their original shapes twisted and unrecognizable. Perhaps that was why he registered the body as a pile of stone rather than a body, until he tripped over it.
Sam crashed to the ground, and stiffened immediately. Where he had expected the sharp pain of old stone, he felt a body soft and unmoving underneath him. Sharp pain snapped through his hand, and he scrambled upwards, breathing hard. The body was still warm.
The Rubble was not a safe place, but Sam didn’t stumble across bodies every day. And not on a night like this, where the acidic rain could leave burns on your exposed skin, or the patrols could take you in for slightest offense. Sam’s hands were shaking. The body had been warm. It hadn’t been dead for long.
He didn’t have a light out on these nights. It was better not to call attention to yourself, a principle he had drilled into himself for all 26 years of his life, and that was failing him right now. He couldn’t move. His breath came in short little gasps, as he fumbled in the jacket for the penlight he used at the prosthetic shop.
It was risky, he knew, as the faint beam of light flickered through the rain. The logical part of his mind knew that he should have run from the moment he had fallen. The other part of his mind demanded he see the body’s face. Sam clenched his hand around the penlight. Blood was running down his hand from where he cut himself falling. It gleamed dark and slick in the wavering light.
He swallowed hard, and pointed the weak light in the direction of the body, illuminating the slack face of a dead man. He was splayed out against a crumbling wall, his hands folded in his lap. He would have looked harmless, peaceful, a drunk recovering from a hard night, if not for his face, twisted in pain. His mouth lolled open, his eyes bulged from their sockets. Pain was broadcasted from every vein on his face, but there were no wounds. Sam pressed his hands against the man’s chest, and instead of warm skin, found warm metal.
Sam yanked his hand back. “Oh god,” he whispered. He stared at the clothing, at the fine detailing and rich cloth that not even a moonless night could hide. The metal chest piece was warm under his hand. The man was a cyborg. The man was wealthy. This was not the type of person who died in the Rubble.
“Shit.” Sam bolted to his feet, tried to wrap his bleeding hand in his coat. His blood had dripped all over the scene, but he had no time to try and hide it. Just as he turned to run, the alley was suddenly wrapped with a stillness that made the hairs on the back of his neck rise.
The tech patrols didn’t announce themselves with footsteps or creaking metal joints. They didn’t carry lights-they didn’t need them. They announced themselves with unnatural silence and stillness, just enough to let you know you were being watched. Sam whipped his head around. He had stayed too long. Panic froze his joints.
The silence dragged on. He took one jerky step backward.
“Do not try to run.” The automated voice came from everywhere and nowhere. “You are surrounded.”
Sam’s hand tingled. On every side of him was darkness. He took another step.
“Stay where you are,” the voice ordered.
Sam’s hands were shaking. He bolted down the narrow street, leaping over a collapsed doorstep and into a sagging row of abandoned apartments. He heard nothing behind him, and it spurred him on, deeper in the ruined homes.