In a world where unhappiness is forbidden by law, a young girl struggles to find a way to cope with her crippling depression and anxiety, fearing she is the only one in the world who feels this way…
Find your calling
Joy managed to get through the tour of the Higher Calling Centre and even managed to complete her aptitude test without too much panic. Every time she felt the emotions inside her threaten to boil over, she just closed her eyes and thought of Sky. His quirky half smile, his clear blue eyes, beautiful like a mountain lake, his steady and reliable demeanour. She barely knew him but already, he felt like home. She was counting down the seconds until she could hear his voice again.
Her tour went really well, the qualification team were very impressed with her, it looked like she might be chosen to be a healer and a successful one at that. However, there was also talk of how good of a quality of life enforcement officer she’d be- this Joy pretended not to hear, if she had soaked in and thought over those words, she never would have made it through the day with her mask of happiness in place.
After the tour, Joy’s sister, Merry dragged her out shopping, despite her protestions of exhaustion. Joy tried to enjoy the day, smiled the entire time, tried to block the negative feelings. She complimented her sister on every outfit she tried on, tried on many herself, only to end up leaving the shops with the same old sort of clothes she always wore- plain jeans and t-shirts.
“Hey Merry?” Joy asked tentatively, they were on the City-link home, the carriage was empty and Joy had mustered up all the courage she could.
“Hmhmm” Merry replied, engrossed in the book she was reading.
“Do you ever feel like… things could be better than they are?” Joy shyly glanced at her sister as they spoke.
Merry put down her book reader and faced her younger sister, Joy swore she saw a flicker of something in Merry’s eyes, understanding? Apprehension? But all she said was “don’t be silly, we are the greatest we’ve ever been!”
Joy sighed, nodded and went back to staring out of the window, her thoughts returning to Sky and how could be the only person in the world who could ever understand her.
Dinner was strained, Joy was genuinely exhausted from having to pretend she was fine all day, sick of having to be happy, she just wanted to curl up on her bed in the dark and forget everything but thoughts of her potential rendezvous later kept her awake and animated. Her mother, as always, was oblivious to anything around her, she chattered on and occasionally started into space, slack jawed. Neither sister pointed this out to her, just waited patiently for her mother to return to herself and carry on right where she left off. Merry however, kept shooting worried glances at her and Joy when neither were looking.
Merry was old enough to remember her parents being taken away, what they were like before that, how devastating it was to not have her father returned. How confusing and heartbreaking it was to see her mother not care that her husband never came back. She had spent her entire life making sure no one ever suspected her of being unhappy. These things tend to run in families, or so everyone always said. Merry knew the authorities had kept a close eye on her and would be doing the same for Joy, the question was, how could she warn her sister without outing herself in the process?
Eventually Merry left, their mother went to sleep and Joy was left to finally find Sky, he had given her a scrap of paper with nothing but an address on it. Excitedly she memorised the words scribbled there, changed into dark clothes and slipped out of her bedroom window.
The night was dark and cold, lights out had been implemented hours ago and the streets were deserted, even so, finding her way through the winding roads proved difficult. More than once she lost her way and had to backtrack. Every sound made her scuttle into the deepest shadows. It was a huge risk to be out this late, if anyone saw her she would be reported to the quality of life enforcers straight away. No one was ever bored, ever restless and no one ever had trouble sleeping so unless you had a calling that meant you had to be out during the dark hours, you stayed at home in bed.
Joy lost her way in the dark, got turned around somewhere and started to panic. ‘What if all of this was just a trap?’ The dark thought snaked its way through her mind. No one could ever like her, want to be with her. She was a liar, defective… Broken. A strain on the human race. She shouldn’t even exist. Sky had seen that. He knew she wasn’t what she was pretending to be, he never had any intention of helping her, he just wanted to lure her out into a trap, get proof of her faults so the officers wouldn’t have any reason to doubt him.
Joy lost all confidence in herself, all faith in Sky. She hated herself, she was going to be taken away, probably never to return. Collapsing in a darkened doorway, tear stained face in her lap, she thought of handing herself in, giving up. She didn’t want to live like this anymore. She wished with everything she had that she could just be normal, fit in with everyone around her.
Just as she is about to call out and alert others of her imperfect intrusion in their lives, a light clicked on in the house opposite her, a door opened, spilling the light into the road, momentarily blinding her.
There bathed in the brilliance like an angel sent to save her stood Sky.
Joy and Sky talk for hours, he explains all negative emotions, their names, why she might be feeling them. He explains how to deal with difficult feelings but warns her to keep it all hidden from everyone except him.
“One day, I was just so stressed with everything, I had to get away, I knew my parents would be working late and no one would miss me for a few hours so I just left. I got on my bike and rode out of the city”
“But how? No one can just leave like that!” Joy exclaimed at his revelation.
“It wasn’t easy, granted” he smirked. “It was the day of the mass happy- making, all the officers were busy, that’s what pushed me over the edge to start with. I had heard there were other people like me, people who just couldn’t be happy, I wanted to find them, join them but I didn’t know how, I’m so glad I didn’t, they were reported, hunted down. Remember?”
The venom in his voice made Joy recoil slightly, she nodded in agreement and waited for him to continue his story, he took a few moments to compose himself then carried on.
“I rode to the ruins, not the ones they show the children in warning, those are just for show. Past them, there are real ruins. The funny thing is, the real ruins aren’t really that ruined at all. There are houses still, filled with junk. I found this” he said, keeping his tone even.
“What is it?” She asks, turning the book over in her hands, careful not to ruffle the yellowed, fragile pages.
“People used to write down their feelings, here read this one” he says, opening the book to a page, obviously read many times.
Running in circles, running no where, no escape
All I see is an empty and barren landscape
Giving up, laying down, let The Darkness claim me
A single tear escapes, have you ever felt so lonely?
“What’s lonely?” Joy asks, looking up from the book.
“It’s that feeling you get, when no one around you understands you and you can’t talk to anyone”
On and on they talked, long into the night, reading poems to each other and discussing how they connected with each of them and each other. Joy returned home just before sun rise, her head full of words and her heart full of feelings.
For the first time, in a very long time, Joy was genuinely happy and fell asleep with a smile on her lips.