Dystopian story - Heart-Shaped Locket

I was poised today to enter a contest. The requirements couldn't have been more perfect! They wanted a dystopian story about a heart-shaped locket. My friends who've read my novel, The Waves of Dissonance, wrote me and encouraged me to enter, so I edited my Chapter 1 accordingly (the one where Waverly has the ladybug-shaped pendant) ONLY to read an article that said the same authors tend to win that contest every. single. time. So, I'm out.


Good news for you, though, since I don't want that edit to go to waste, I'm sharing that Chapter rewrite, below. Won't earn me $20k, but maybe this will interest someone enough to order the actual book on Amazon.

Please let me know what you think.


THE WAVES OF DISSONANCE – CHAPTER ONE

By Andrea Clark


Waverly Nelson leaned back against the hard, muscular leg of the only man she had lain with in over eighteen years, and smiled absently at his head, lying forty feet away. In the pre-dawn shadows beside the glassy Potomac River, his cavernous mouth gaped open in a perpetual, frozen scream, and his wide, unseeing eyes stared upward, as though beseeching the heavens for mercy.


Only, Heaven wasn’t listening.


Like a colossal, mythological figure caught midway between purgatory and hell, The Awakening statue lay frozen on its back. One massive, gunmetal arm stretched upward, its gnarled fist frozen seventeen feet in the air as though reaching for freedom. The other hand, trapped firmly by the ground at the wrist, the protruding bent knee at her back, and a lone foot, nearly ten-feet tall behind her were the only other body parts above ground.


Just as it should be, she thought.


Thanks to Waverly’s generous donations over the years, this National Harbor landmark was one of the few remaining works of art to have withstood the many years of neglect following the 2020 Plague. When she had first visited New America’s former Capital as a child, most historic buildings and memorials in the infamous “D.C. Ghost Town” had already been covered in vines. The Awakening had been no exception.


That day, she had cowered under the statue’s massive palm, convinced the disembodied giant would spring to life at any moment and squash her tiny body. She had bravely bared her teeth for her father’s camera—“Just one more shot, Sweetheart!”—but all the while, she had sensed the sculpture’s cold, metallic fingers overhead, closing in.


“Powerful, isn’t he?” her father had boasted later, as they explored the bearded, Zeus-like face and rapped their knuckles against each sunken, hollow eye. “He survived the Plague, just like your ma and me, and he’s still struggling, too. He represents man’s unyielding determination… his spirit! See how he’s rising up and freeing himself from the bondage of hell and earth? It’s to remind us to never give up hope.” He saw her skeptical expression and laughed. “Trust me, little Wave, you have nothing to fear from him.”


Waverly had eyed the statue with continued misgiving. Even at that young age, she had known her father was mistaken. To her, the figure wasn’t rising toward Heaven; he was falling from it. And in his desperate, flailing attempt to save himself, she knew he was liable to grab onto anything, or anyone, to keep from sinking further. To her, the statue represented man’s weakness. It showcased his defeat.


Now, thirty years later, as she mindlessly fingered a heart-shaped locket hanging from a chain around her neck, she couldn’t stop smiling.


“Looks like I was right, Pops,” she said to herself, aloud. “After all, your man is still lying here, frozen and helpless in the sand, and in three days’ time, Senator Marshall Danforth, will be in virtually the same position.”


She could hardly wait.


***

Waverly Nelson and Senator Danforth went way back—back to the days he was a thin, eager young pastor at First Calvary Baptist Church in Boston, and she was a pregnant teen in labor. Danforth’s pretty wife, Marisa, had also been in labor at the time. Even over the pain of her own contractions, when Waverly heard a male voice declare, “Remove that whore from my wife's room at once!” she had known the man meant her.


No one listened, however. With the hospital severely short-staffed and both women in active labor, an intern had wheeled Waverly’s stretcher right next to Marisa’s bed so the doctor could take care of them both. The deliveries were nearly simultaneous. At one point in the final birthing moments, Waverly could have sworn the two women had even held hands.

Later, in Recovery, Waverly had awakened to find a man lurking by her bed. She recognized him instantly as the man from the Delivery Room. His wrinkled suit and shirt suggested a long previous night, but his eyes appeared surprisingly alert.


“Young lady,” he announced, as though delivering a prepared speech. “You have been living in a cesspool, both physically and spiritually. It is time for you to repent.”


Sheets rustled as other patients stirred to watch.


"I was there when your pimp dropped you off,” he continued. “Fat into labor, yet there you were… in fishnet stockings, a purple boa, and peacock-feather eyelashes. Ridiculous! You might as well have had the word WHORE tattooed across your forehead. And speaking of your head, how’d you get those scars? No doubt you’re a junkie and burned off your hair freebasing!”


Waverly sank into her pillow and pulled the top sheet up to her chin. The sheets smelled like bleach, but they did not make her feel clean. She squinted at the man in confusion and exhaustion.


Why are you saying these things? she wanted to ask him.


“I heard you tell the Hospital Advocate you are homeless and alone,” he continued. “And you’re what? Sixteen? What kind of life could you offer a child? My church offers financial and emotional support for people like you. We’ll pay your medical expenses and provide you a generous check to help you make a fresh start. In return, all you have to do is sign these papers relinquishing all parental rights.”


He pulled out a thick, manila envelope from inside his left breast pocket and placed it on her nightstand. “These papers explain everything. In the meantime, your daughter will be placed in Child Protective Services.”


He spat when he spoke, and the shock of it, cold against her cheek, inflamed her.


"What? No!” She struggled out both elbows from underneath the sheet. He flinched for an instant, as though she were about to attack him, then relaxed as she wiped away his spittle and her tears. “No!” she said again. “You can't do that!"


That was the first time the man had made eye contact. He seemed to consider her words, then he bent over her bed and whispered. His breath, she recalled later, smelled strangely of chocolate. The jolt of its sweetness against the cruelty of his words seemed surreal at the time.


"Yes, I can,” he said. “I can do whatever I want. Listen, kid, I am doing you a favor here, so take the money and be grateful. I promise to personally find your baby a good, Christian home, but if you fight me, I’ll see to it you are charged with Child Endangerment… and Prostitution. You will go to jail, and will lose your baby, either way, so I suggest you take my offer. Contact my office when you’re ready.”


He straightened, then, and flicked a business card onto the bed. With an air of satisfaction, he nodded, as though concluding a business transaction, and strode with purpose toward the adjoining nursery. He emerged a few minutes later carrying a tightly-wrapped pink bundle.


“No… please!” she sobbed, but the man didn’t pause or look back. She never even got to see her baby’s face.


No one consoled her. The other women in Recovery turned their backs once the man left, and even the nurses seemed to avoid talking to her. Later that night, Waverly curled into a fetal position and cried herself to sleep.


The next morning, she saw the name on the discarded card, “Reverend Marshall Danforth,” and finally began to hate. She shook with rage and frustration that this man could judge her without cause and leave her with no recourse.


That was the moment she pledged to destroy him.


***

Waverly sighed and blinked the memory away. The sun had risen slightly and now outlined The Awakening’s face, carving deep shadows below the nose and mouth much like a flashlight under a chin. The sharp contrast made him look ghoulish and sinister, no longer the Greek god her father had believed him to be. Waverly barely recognized the change. To her, the man had always been a demon.


Without thinking, she ran a hand over her bald head, feeling the old scars that had never quite healed, and then flicked open her locket. She double tapped the tiny keypad inside. Instantly, a virtual computer screen blinked to life, midair. With Lite-Brite audacity, its sharp pixels glowed an eerie green against the harbor’s rising dawn.


Her company, Cis-Star Technologies, had first patented this VEE technology thirteen years ago—along with a whole line of other Virtual Energy Emission devices that followed. The VEE-6 had been the first to use patterned interference to produce holographic images. That model had been expensive and clunky. Newer models were substantially cheaper… in every way. Critics had complained about the VEE’s grainy holographic quality at first, but the free press had only helped spread the word. By the time VEE-7 came out, its Holo-lite™ technology was so lightweight she could produce it at half the cost. Sales skyrocketed. Before long, it was, quite literally, the latest public addiction. Today, practically everyone in New America (males and females alike) owned a VEE.


Waverly’s own personal locket was still in the prototype stage. In addition to the upgraded holographic capabilities, its patent-pending Touch-Lite feature allowed users to move data around in midair as easily as touching a traditional hard-slate screen. It was ideal for today’s special programming.


With sudden eagerness, she plucked at the projected lights, interrupting the pixel sensors, and pulled up her encrypted file. There, in bright green text, were the commands she had previously written:


“START MESSAGE:

‘FOLLOW ME. FOLLOW ME.

FREEDOM AND POWER TO THOSE WHO FOLLOW ME.’

END MESSAGE.”


The next word, “RECIPIENT?” blinked the question she had been pondering for weeks. With a deep breath, meant to acknowledge the finality of her decision and all the preparation leading up to this moment, she spoke the name she had selected.


“Paul Brown.”


As though mirroring Waverly’s excitement at having finally chosen a name, the tiny locket hummed and displayed the confirming words, “PAUL BROWN.”


“EXECUTE?” the green letters asked her.


Waverly’s lips twitched slightly.


“Yes,” she said. “Execute.”


The device whirled again. When it went quiet this time, she nodded and closed the locket. The VEE fell back hot, but not burning, against her skin.


It’s over, she sighed.


That wasn’t exactly true, she knew. She still had one more missing puzzle piece to input, but she had narrowed the list of contenders and would make that decision before noon. Plenty of time. Until then, she would concentrate on the election. Double-checking the time on her VEE-4 (the wrist model, still sold on-line) she noted the polls hadn’t even opened out west, but already her program was hard at work, compelling both sides to vote against Senator Danforth.


A knowing smile tugged again at her lips. Poor Danforth, she thought. He has no idea who I am and what’s coming. It almost made her feel sorry for him.


Almost.


She shifted again, and the massive leg’s cold hardness behind her spread a delicious tingle down her outstretched legs. She closed her eyes to savor the feeling. She imagined her nemesis—no doubt tucked away in his penthouse office suite soaking in today’s mental suggestions she had created just for him—blissfully unaware she had just sealed his fate.


She wondered when she should tell him. Tonight, perhaps? Right after the election results? Or tomorrow, after Buford was sworn in? After so many years spent orchestrating his defeat, it was hard to know what would offer her the most satisfaction.



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