10-Year Tax Day

And now, a randomly generated scene…

This is getting ridiculous. Maybe I should watch My Little Pony before generating words. That might help the end product become something with a slightly lighter mood.

Nouns: fabric, sky, change, punishment, tax, food, laugh

Adjectives: charming, verdant, fierce, utopian, automatic

Verbs: discharge, attend, deliver

Adverb: remorsefully

MP900341400

It was Tax Day. Nathaniel shuffled along, profile pinned to his thin chest, shoulders and hips jostled with every step. According to the chatter, some within the massive throng were from as far away as half a day, as the crow flies. He believed it, too. There was just so many.

They’d all had to attend. Nathaniel knew very little about Tax Day apart from that. His parents had left him with a few tears, a fierce hug each and a simple instruction: do as you’re told. And they’d been told to queue. Formed into thick, haphazard lines supervised by imposing adults in suits, they were herded towards the warehouses like peckish cows to verdant pastures, but not nearly so eager. The vibe was far from cheerful.

Nathaniel listened to his closest neighbours. They had no more idea than he what awaited them. Many feared some sort of punishment. Nathaniel wasn’t worried about that. He hadn’t done anything wrong. His profile said so. Perfect attendance at school, middling to high marks in all in classes. Enthusiastic participation in military games. Strong predisposition towards language and arts – only five other kids in his class had strong predispositions for anything! Nathaniel was more occupied by his aching feet and the hole in his stomach begging to be fed. He’d been standing there all day and had only just passed into the shadow of his warehouse.

Though cool shade was a welcome change from sweating in the sun, he’d have preferred some bread and a cup of water. His parents promised a celebration with a few precious items from their food parcel once he got home – they’d even promised a fizzy drink. He thought enviously of those who’d entered the warehouse before him and could already be sucking down cola, bubbles tickling their noses.

At last at the front of his queue, an automatic door whizzed up and Nathaniel stepped inside, the rush of air on his back cold as it shut him in.

Confining metal corrals steered them across the warehouse, lit blindingly bright. Banners strung across the high ceiling shouted patriotic slogans in monstrous black letters. Hundreds upon hundreds queued, and this was only one of two dozen warehouses. Coupled with everyone who still stood beneath the sky and those who’d already passed through… the sheer number of children was too great for Nathaniel to fathom.

The aura here was starkly different. Outside, there had been nerves. Inside, the silence was oppressive, broken only by the occasional jittery, high-pitched laugh that made his stomach knot, genial Nathaniel wanting to snap at their owners to shut up. After hours more enduring the uptight atmosphere he started to squirm, in dire need of a bathroom.

“Hurry up,” he moaned under his breath as he slowly processed past the midway point of his corral, bladder distending and starting to hate Tax Day. He already dreaded the next he had to attend. At least there’d be a long, 10-year gap.

Hours later again, Nathaniel reached the front of his queue for the second time. Forcing down the unbearable need to relieve himself as the gate was unlatched, he was led to one of ten identical desks. A steely, grey-suited woman sat behind it, looking bored. The young man – he couldn’t have been more than 19 – who’d led him there flashed Nathaniel a charming, but weary smile.

“Profile,” the woman said disinterestedly, barely sparing Nathaniel a glance.

The young man held out his hand and Nathaniel, fighting not to wince and dance on the spot, unpinned his profile.

“Nathaniel John Laker,” the young man read. “Strong predisposition for language and arts. Daily participation in military games, perfect attendance…”

He read Nathaniel’s profile fluidly, easily navigating the difficult words near the end – Nathaniel had no clue what they meant. He tried to listen, but kept getting distracted by his bladder.

Finished, the young man placed it on the desk. The woman’s eyes flicked across the profile.

“No room for more arts boys.”

“But look at his school marks, his ancestry,” the young man wheedled as Nathaniel blinked, bewildered. “Look at his health – almost perfect. No family history of serious disease.”

“Math and science is what we’re after. We’ve had a shortage the last few years, remember? But his profile is decent, I’ll admit. I’ll make a note to keep the next male of his ancestry.”

“But Ma’am, this one’s worth keeping.”

“They’re all worth keeping to you. That’s why we’re past our quota for arts already.”

“Ma’am, I think…”

“Don’t think,” the woman snapped, silencing him immediately. She scribbled briefly and threw Nathaniel’s profile into an overflowing box at her feet. “Deliver him left now or I’ll be sure that’s where you’re delivered next year.”

A flash of fear was replaced by a set jaw of unwilling compliance. The young man nodded once.

“Yes, Ma’am. This way, Nathaniel.”

He took Nathaniel by the hand and led him past the desk. More adults led other children, accompanying them either left or right where two doors led in opposite directions. A banner hung over each. On the right, it simply read “Congratulations”. On the left, the banner read, “Help Us Keep Our Utopian Society Great.”

“Just walk that way,” the young man said, sighing remorsefully. Unexpectedly, he gave Nathaniel’s hand a squeeze. “Be brave.”

He gave him a gentle nudge towards the left door. Confused, but need for a place to piss and his parents’ advice to do as he was told overpowering any desire to ask questions, Nathaniel set off at a brisk trot. To his disappointment, the first thing he came across was another queue. At least this one was short. There had to be toilets on the other side of this door. Then he could go home and forget about Tax Day for another 10 years.

Three away, now two. This door wasn’t as well-maintained as the others, Nathaniel thought distractedly as he took his place at the head of the line. It made intermittent muffled popping sounds, almost like the sound his rifle made through his earplugs when it discharged during military games.

Finally, a rush of air blew his fringe back from his forehead. Nathaniel stepped through the open door into a short passage and was immediately confronted by another door. He waited impatiently, hopping from foot to foot, convinced his bladder was about to burst.

That’s when fabric dropped over his eyes.

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