scared straight

by James

Call me Jackie is talking, her mouth opening and closing, but all I have in my brain is the noise of the tram, rolling its wheels over the joins in the track in the most bone shaking way it can. Call me Jackie is talking about chances, no, about a chance – the last chance.

Nice one, Jackie. How many of them I had now, seven?

Just to be clear: I did not steal the Womble. I most definitely did not return to the exhibit after the rest of my class had left and use a black-market skimmer to scramble the code and pop open the lock. What is a skimmer, anyway? Come to that, what the fuck is a Womble?

About three inches tall, this thing, some old toy from two hundred years ago. Whole rooms of old crap in the museum, all of it irreplaceable, all of it priceless. What would a kid want with stealing that shit?

Would you believe me if I said I was going to use the credits to buy Jackie a birthday present?

We arrive at Traitor’s Plunge station. Waiting for us on the platform is the youth liaison office for my district, a guy I’ve known since I was five years old. Skinny as a rake, this guy. How long we known each other, Slim, ten years?

We follow him down the platform and through a bleak metal door at the far end. Now it’s a twenty-minute tunnel walk, climbing higher and higher inside the natural wall of stone that rings the city. When someone does the walk for real, everyone watches on the monitors. Dead man walking.

Nah, course not. Progressionist society. Banishment, is what it is. They lower you into the pit and then the cage comes back up empty. Might as well be dead, because is the first thing they teach you in school?

There is nothing outside of this city.

Call me Jackie hangs back as Slim leads me up the three steps cut into the stone that lead to the plunge pit. I am GOD when I tell the guys I’ve stood and looked down into the actual fucking pit.

What a let-down. Nothing but a few feet of stone dropping away beneath us and then blackness.

‘Is that it? A tiny black hole? What happened to the bottomless pit of despair?’

Slim shrugs.

At least the cage is pretty cool. The actual cage from which the banished take their last look at the world before they are lowered into nothing.

I give Jackie a wave. ‘Hey, check it!’

I raise my right leg in front of my body, holding it out straight.

‘You want me to step forward? Save you some paperwork?’

‘Kid,’ Slim says. ‘You hear that noise?’


‘Hydraulics turning off, pressure door opening. All those bullet cars rushing through tunnels, air has to go somewhere.’

Slim jerks his head to the right, and I look to the narrow cave opening just in time to feel this great wash of warm air pummelling my body.

Jackie is screaming, but for me there is nothing but the pit, and Slim’s fingers hooked through the collar of my shirt.