Michael is thirty-nine and gay. Like his little niece, Kim, who has a learning disability, he is considered a non-citizen under the draconian Normalcy Laws. Kim’s parents quietly arrange to flee to New Zealand, where the Normalcy Laws haven’t been implemented.
As Michael has a good job and has been careful to hide his homosexuality, he doesn’t consider going with them. Instead, he remains behind and goes about his business as normal until one morning when he is confronted by two Black Guards.
Hooded, Michael is taken to what he assumes is the Department of Law. Once people are taken there, they never see the light of day again. Elimination is the only punishment in the New World Order. There he is interrogated by The Man, a handsome officer of the Black Guards.
In a desperately hopeless situation, is there any hope of surviving elimination? No one ever has in the past, but Michael discovers something about The Man that hints at his situation not being as bleak as it appears. Can he dare to hope there is a way out? Or is he so delusional that his fantasies of freedom have clouded his judgment?
Under the oppressive Normalcy Laws, nothing is certain.
It was dark when Rebecca woke him.
“We’re leaving,” she said.
Michael threw off his covers and hugged his sister close.
“I’m going to miss you,” she said. “If you change your mind, we’d love it if you could find your way down to us some day.”
She was sniffing and holding Michael as if she didn’t intend to ever let go, but eventually she did. She led him by the hand out to the entrance hall where Nathan and Kim were waiting, dressed comfortably for the long drive.
“Look at you two,” he said excitedly. “Ready for your vacation?”
He hugged Nathan to him and then Kim.
“We want you to come,” said Nathan. “It won’t be any fun without you.”
“Oh come on,” said Michael. “Daddy’s going and Mummy. Gee, you’ll be having so much fun with them, you won’t even notice I’m not there.”
Kim began crying.
Michael picked her up. “And what’s wrong with you? You’re going on a big vacation. You should be laughing and smiling and ... oh no ... ” He wriggled his finger in front of her. “... it’s the Tickle Monster. He’s come to say good bye.”
Kim tried her hardest not to smile, but Michael could see one struggling to emerge. Encouraged, he started tickling the little girl until her sobs had turned into squeals and giggles of joy.
“We have to go,” said Craig, scouring the street outside for roaming white vans.
Michael lowered Kim to the floor and shook Craig’s hand. “Take care of them,” he said.
Craig gave a casual salute and walked onto the front porch. Rebecca took Nathan and Kim by the hand and when Kim looked ready to cry again, Michael wriggled his finger in her direction.
“Tickle Monster,” he said, and the little girl was giggling once again.
“Bye baby brother,” said Rebecca.
She leaned in for a hug and Michael gave her a nice long one.
He watched from the door as the only family he had got into their car and reversed down the driveway. He waved them good bye and when they had disappeared from sight he closed the door, wiping the tears from his eyes with the ball of his hand as he returned to bed. It was too late to go back to sleep, but he could still rest for a while, before he had to shower, dress and leave for work.
Forty-five minutes elapsed. After that it was time to begin the day for real. As the front door clicked shut he thought the sound it made was hollower, emptier. It would feel even stranger returning home again that evening. The place would be cold and dark and quiet.
He saw the white van immediately and felt numb. He started walking, down the steps towards his car, which was parked in the driveway. Perhaps they weren’t there for him. Perhaps they were monitoring the house opposite. Or the one next door.
It was wishful thinking. Already two Black Guards had gotten out of the van and were walking quickly, purposefully, towards him.
Michael stopped dead. Even at night they wore their black visors, which covered over a third of their faces. Black helmets covered their heads, long, black boots covered their feet and fitted black uniforms covered everything else. There were no insignia, no badges, but they didn’t need any. Their appearance was one everyone knew and dreaded.
The taller of the two thrust his hand forward. “Identity card.”
Good manners weren’t a requirement for Black Guards.
Michael fished the imprinted plastic card out of his wallet and handed it to the Black Guard, who checked it and handed it back to him. He had barely enough time to return the card to his wallet before the Black Guards grabbed him, one under each arm, and escorted him back to the white van.
“Wait a minute,” said Michael, struggling to free himself from their iron grip. “What are you doing?”