February 1, 2189.
I've been lying here with a clouded head for about half an hour now, but once the bawling becomes loud enough to drown out the birds my half-awake state crumbles away completely. It is way too early though. The sun is not even up. At least, I don't think it is. The window is just above my head, but there are no lines of light on the blanket. Now I think about it, my room is still covered in shadow.
I sit up and glance around, holding my head when my vision blacks out briefly. Remnants of my lucid dreams drift away, and then I look around the room again. It is still night.
Half asleep, I climb up on the hard mattress - carefully, so I do not damage my head on the extremely low ceiling - and peer out of the window. It is small, and so am I, so it is hard to see anything more than the sky. But I can see stars, between the bars, and slow moving clouds.
A distant wail reminds me of where I am, and I turn and drop into a sitting position to gaze off the end of the bed, pointing at the door. It is bad feng shui; Chinese people carried the dead out feet first. Yet the room is too narrow to turn the bed around. I tried it once and ended up with it wedged diagonally between the walls. By the next morning it was mysteriously back where it started. There is nothing else to move in here.
He will not stop screaming. I stare at the bottom of the door for a long time before eventually jerking my head up to stare at the barred window in my door. But I cannot see anything important in the spaces. From where I am sitting, all I can see is the ceiling. I think it is one of the sick ones.
They all sound different here. Pain is groaning or scream. Fear starts loud but fades to whimpers. Insanity sounds inhuman. If they stayed here for longer I could identify them by the way they scream. But the louder they are, the quicker they go. I give this guy a week at best.
It is a constant warbled siren now. I was always good at sound. I could recognise people I knew by their footsteps. Still can. I know the workers by their footsteps. That is the Key-Master coming, and he has got the older Professor with him. A Guard is coming too. They all sound the same, so I do not know which one. Nor do I care.
If his room were any closer to mine I think my ears would be pounding. As things are, I just have an overwhelming urge to beat something. I stay very still on my bed as thumps and thuds echo back down to my end of the corridor, trying to listen very carefully and tune them out at the same time.
But when I hear my neighbour's door close behind him, my curiosity gets the better of me. I rush from the bed and press myself up against my door, pushing right up onto my toes to try and peer out of the window. The boy in the opposite room is looking out of his window, too, but we don't look at each other; we are more interested in the diseased kid being dragged down the corridor.
I watch as he passes my room, his wails hurting my ears, his face etching another demented image into my subconscious. I notice the straightjacket on him, and change my mind. If he does not return by sunset he will not ever come back.
I keep my eyes on the end of the hallway for some time - noting no other curious children stood at their doors - before glancing back to the other boy, who is doing the same. I wonder how he is reaching the window when I know he is shorter than me, but then he vanishes, dropping out of sight.
They think I am safer now, so my straightjacket is gone, replaced by a jumpsuit with the sleeves stitched closed at the end. I wait for maybe half a minute before moving away too, sitting on my bed and absentmindedly gnawing on the sleeve of my suit. The stitches are very loose now but still in place. They do not know how wrong they are.
The story is set almost two hundred years from now, where to keep societies thriving, the governments of the world deal with all serious criminals in the same way: the death penalty. They work hard to keep public hysteria at a minimum, and have created perfect utopias in cities that were once terrible. However they understand that children are the future, and have converted prisons to house juvenile convicts and condition their behaviour.
The story is narrated in first person by a twelve-year-old girl, the only name for which we are given is "7-42", her code number, and the first "chapter" of the story is a fact-file produced by the building, stating that she's in there for attempted murder. This is similar to THT's technique of using "real" scientific notes at the end of the story to authenticate it, however in my story I've used it to introduce the audience to the narrator before actually meeting her. My original writing is the beginning of the narrative, and follows her thoughts and feelings about her experiences with the conditioning and treatment methods in this particular shabby establishment, and her escape from the building along with three other convicts.
I took inspiration from the beginning of the second chapter of THT for my original piece, because I felt the room the oppressed character stays in reflects the reality of the story. In my story, it's suggested through the description that the room is very small: the bed cannot be turned a full 360°; the narrator cannot stand on the bed without hitting her head on the ceiling. This creates a claustrophobic atmosphere in the room, one which doesn't seem to bother 7-42 as she comments that "[the window] is small, and so am I" without any additional comment of complaint. The bars in the window and door also immediately create a feeling of imprisonment.
In THT, Offred says "The door of the room – not my room, I refuse to say my" which reflects her quiet rebellion of the situation she's in, and how she won't accept her current conditions. In my writing, I have subverted this: 7-42 is constantly saying "my room", "my door", "my bed". This has been done to reflect her quiet but dominant attitude: it's not a desirable situation but she's going to lay claim to anything she can get her hands on, despite everyone else in the building also having the same standard room and bed.
In THT, Atwood is highlighting the oppression of woman and showing the reader the nightmarish reality it could become in the future. In the reality of my novel, all genders and races are equal, but those in the buildings are "Insiders" and those still living in the perfect cities are "Outsiders". There's no prejudice or discrimination within the groups, but if an Insider is released back into the outside society, they'll suffer prejudice, even though the Outsiders know he was successfully conditioned and is no threat.
THT is typical of dystopian stories because it's about a rebel with different views to the leaders against the rest of the world. My story subverts this, instead presenting us with a character who is rightfully imprisoned and whose only desire is to escape and finish what she started. She's presented as a calculating and methodical character through the absence of contractions in the narrative and her mental notes on her surroundings: "no other curious children [were] stood at their doors."
However in the rest of the novel it would be implied that she's a fairly average child despite this, and this would be shown through her thoughts and personal reflection. This is to highlight how the methods are still torture, and no child should have to go through the experience, however twisted they are. Even if the audience struggles to sympathise with the narrator, they're encouraged to sympathise with the other convicts in the building, varying from the young, wrongly accused, and mentally or physically sick, who are all going through similar experiences.
In Western cultures, 7 is considered a lucky number, and in the book "A Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy" the number 42 makes an appearance as the "Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, the Universe, and Everything." This combination of the two numbers creates a very power, positive number: this makes it an ironic code number for the delinquent narrator. The story also takes her code number as a title because of the irony, and it immediately creates mystery and suggests a robotic society through the use of numbers.