Comfort and Decoy

“Laughter can become a sickness,” I say, meeting the expectant eyes of the newest members of our colony. “Same can be said for running and reading when proper precautions aren’t met.” I breathe deeply and put a smile on my face—the first for many days.

Whatever I say-really whatever anyone says-Grayson Isle is a prison. We walk with plastered grins. Only a few brave rebels speak the truth, “G.I. where you go to die!” But as Greeter, it’s my job to pretend such things are not only false, but that they don’t exist. 

“Allow me to start anew. I am Jessica Washburg and you’ve been selected from among the best candidates Earth has to offer.” I walk to the edge of the stage. The spotlight follows. “I could tell you Grayson Isle is always peaceful. Always lawful. But you’re too smart for that. We all suffer—but only from time-to-time. The majority of life here on our floating island is paradise realized.” My voice goes up several steps, per my orientation instructions.

“This is where you clap,” I say, feigning a laugh.  

A smattering of applause follows.

“Lively bunch.” I wave my hand. “Up. Stand up. All of you! That goes for you two in the back, as well.”

With audible groans, they follow my direction. “Let’s recite The Ode.”

“Grayson Isle is a place to—“

“—revile!” shouts a voice from the balcony. “A death-cell. A mirror world. A lie!”

“Nothing to fear, recruits. Surely it’s just a farce put on by our overly excitable theatre troupe.” I straighten my powdered beehive wig. I tug the Bird of Paradise flower pin on the lapel of my purple and pink polka dot suit in order to conceal my panicked whispers to its hidden microphone.

“She’s back! I repeat Laurel Redbeet’s here in the auditorium!” I wait for Headquarters commands. None come. “What do you want to me do?” My voice strains.

“You won’t get an answer.” Laurel pokes her head over the railing, revealing her face engulfed in flame beneath gravel-colored hair and framed with growing horns. “They’re gone.”

“Gone? What’ll we do?” The recruits begin to understand the gravity of her words.

“Not to worry, my little chickadees.” I try to sound cheery.

“Of course not. Why worry? It’s done and she’s already gone.”

“Who?” I feel my heart quicken. Something tells me Laurel speaks the truth.

“Everyone,” she says. “Mother Earth is no more. No more oceans. No more trees. No more food shipments or weapon boxes. It’s all gone. I can’t leave and neither can you, Jessica.”

“Don’t be ridiculous!” My face quivers with forced smiles. “I spoke with them before we started here.” 

I expected mass panic. But what I got was worse. Terrifying stillness. Complete silence.

Laurel’s gaze draws my attention—I can’t fight its pull. My mind screams for me to run or at least cover my eyes, but she’s far too strong for a simple Greeter’s spirit to match. I resign myself.

“Good,” her mind speaks directly to mine. “You understand.”

I nod.

“Do it,” she commands. 

The young recruits are frozen under her control. Faces as blank as wax figures, but their eyes reveal their hatred and terror.

“I can’t.”

“Why not? You’re saving them.” Laurel levitates, swooping on the stage next to me.

“I just can’t.”

“You would have been all too happy to pass them to the Council as slaves, laborers who build your houses, cook your meals, make your wigs, and decorate your face.” She smudges her thumb across my lips, staining them coral.

“That’s different.”

“Because it’s not you doing it?”

“Exactly. I’m not a killer. I can’t murder a room full of children in cold blood.” My voice shakes.

“You’ve been a serial killer from the moment you were born. You take, destroy, use, and justify…” she says. “You’re human in every sense of the word. Fragile. Fleeting. Destructive.”

“I’m peaceful and obedient,” I reply. “I’m not a criminal.”

“Then why are you here?” 

“To do my civic duty.”

“That’s not why,” she says. “Why are you here?”

“Prestige…but if it wasn’t me, it would be someone else who might not take the job seriously. Someone worse.

“But don’t you see,” Laurel says, whipping her spaded tail. “It doesn’t matter who stands here or who dies out there.” She motions to the breathing figurines before me. “Or even those who died back on Earth. Your species is a plague, a virus, a parasite. And so you shall be, Greeter. The only way to save the innocent is through death. Yours. Theirs. I leave the choice in your hands.”

With that, the she-devil vanishes. The room renews with chatter, and Headquarters barks at me.

“You’re live in 30 seconds,” they say. “Remember to smile and be reassuring. Make them feel special. Remind them they are noble and valued.” The speaker feedbacks with cynical laughter. “Make them believe in humanity’s supremacy. Pet them correctly and they’ll gladly eat their children with a smile on their faces. 


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