PART I: WINTER
Gazing out the window was an everyday affair for Amber. Some might classify this as boring, but to her, it was the most fascinating part of her day. A single oak tree stood in front of her window. Living in a temperate climate, she looked forward to days in which the seasons changed, where the tree branches bare from the harsh winter were gradually clothed with specks of leaves before blossoming into a massive foliage of green, enough to shade her from the scorching sun. And when the time came, the trees shed their leaves in preparation for the next winter.
Knowing this gave her a sense of serenity — that life was not permanent and things could change with time.
She looked out of the window, faded blue-green eyes plastered closely to the window pane. Though blessed with the most enchanting set of irises, there had always been something lacking within them. Her pupils traced each speckle of snow as they fell upon the window sill. Winter wasn’t her most favorite season of the year. Stagnant. Rigid. Prickly. That was winter according to Amber.
Two long hours had passed and Amber started to get fidgety in her orange velvet armchair. She tiptoed towards the fireplace embellished with royal gold designs in her bedroom before tossing a small bucket of firewood into the fireplace and reaching into her pocket for her matchbox. A fire was set ablaze at the strike of a matchstick. Amber held her hands over the fire as the flames leapt higher and higher, the heat wrapping itself around her palms warm and inviting.
Fire. The embodiment of beauty and danger. A protector to many, it kept people going even through the toughest of winters. The embers that flew up and away from her fireplace looked like miniature fireworks. And yet if they touched something by accident, it could cause a catastrophe. Entranced, Amber moved her palms closer and closer towards the flickering flames.
“Amber! What are you doing?” Amber retracted her hands away from the fire and turned towards the voice.
It was her mother, Anna. “That’s our last batch of firewood. We have to ration it. You know that, don’t you?” She took a deep breath and sighed. “Come along now, it’s time to go to the facility.”
The facility. Those two words agitated Amber to the core. It had been a year now since she had started working there, which was a rite of passage that all teenagers partook in.
She recalled the day she turned sixteen, a day she looked forward to.
Adolescents around Amber’s age were confined within four colossal ivory walls, containing nothing else but hundreds of rows of spin bikes and a singular podium perched high on top of a white platform.
“Welcome all to the facility,” a raspy female voice boomed from the podium. “As you all know, our country is lacking the resources to supply the nation’s electricity.”
The woman points towards the spin bikes.
“For the next five years, it is your responsibility to cycle on these bikes to produce energy for our country. Now go, choose your bike.”
That was an illusion of choice, for each bike was the same, chained to a large metallic machine through long, windy wires, like grotesque veins connected to an inhuman heart. Amber chose the one closest to her and mounted it.
The same raspy female voice called out to Amber, drawing closer and closer to her.
“You’re Anna’s daughter, aren’t you?”
That was the statement she was greeted with by the head of facility, Ms Jadyn. It was no surprise to Amber that she was known as her mother’s daughter. Looked up to by many, her mother Anna was the best worker at the facility of her time, often praised for her continuous efforts for the sake of the country.
“I look forward to your contribution, Amber.”
Amber put on her exercise gear reluctantly and examined herself in the vanity mirror. Her chestnut hair was frizzy from a lack of care, her body was lean but lacking of the dewy glow her skin once had a year ago. Her mother placed her palms onto Amber’s shoulders, beaming at Amber through the mirror. Amber returned the smile, though she did feel the ingenuity that oozed from her own. Without missing a beat, Amber headed down the stairs and straight out the front door to the facility. Winter was the season where energy was in high demand, a golden opportunity for her to prove herself to her mother.
One day I’ll be like mom, Amber thought. I just need to keep going and work hard.
And she did.
Day in, day out. Clocking into the facility at 9 in the morning and pedalling through the night till 8, with two 1-hour breaks in between.
Every day was the same.
PART II: SPRING
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.
Another ten more.
One. Two. Three…
That was the only way Amber could keep up with pedalling on the spin bike. If she could get through ten seconds of agony, she could take on the next ten.
Each leg doused in her own sweat, her muscles stiffened as she pedalled faster. If only she could take a break. But then again, there’s nothing else to do in the facility besides pedalling. A thousand heads bobbed to the rhythm of their racing heartbeats. No windows, no music, nothing. Though the place was air conditioned, Amber felt the heat. The sun was starting to peek out as the piercing winter winds came to an end.
One. Two. Three…
Her mind was determined as ever, but her legs started to give up on her. Rest was something that Amber was desperate for. She wanted to go outside and relax. Just for a little bit.
She glanced at the cyclist on her right. Kiana. Kiana had always been the older sister figure that Amber never had, a friend she kept close to her heart. Before Amber could even utter a word, Kiana sighed.
“Door’s locked. Not a good idea Amber.”
Damn, she’s good. Though both had known each other for merely a year, Kiana could sense Amber’s intentions as if she manifested them at the back of her hand.
“Come on. I’m tired now. She won’t notice.” Kiana gives Amber a weary grin.
Tossing her head around, she made sure Ms Jadyn wasn’t nearby. Her vicious pedalling came to an abrupt stop, legs wobbling in conjunction from the strenuous workout as she hobbled away from her spin bike. Amber turned back to Kiana.
“I’ll be back soon. Just tell Ms Jadyn that I’m taking a huge dump in the washroom.”
Amber bid her friend a silent goodbye, leaving Kiana chuckling to herself on her spin bike. To Kiana, Amber was someone who brought a bit of excitement to their tiresome routine.
To her surprise, the door was left unlocked, unlike her previous attempts to escape from her duties. As she opened the door, little dots of pink glazed her eyes. It was a refreshing sight, and Amber couldn’t peel her eyes off such a view, alluring in comparison to the dull interior of the facility.
Her feet instinctively carried her to a nearby timber bridge, arching over a quaint stone-walled pond. Patches of colour in the pond rushed towards Amber’s presence — koi fish starving for their next meal. Giggling with delight, her gaze moved towards the tall giant hovering over her head.
A cherry blossom tree. The last one left in the country. Dainty pink cotton buds swayed with the wind.
In a city of black and white industrialised areas dotted with hints of green, people carried on with the hustle and bustle in life without a care. But when cherry blossoms were in full bloom, it made one stop and stare, granting one the opportunity to appreciate the world around them, even if for a little while. Amber stood there agape, in awe of the tree’s beauty. Under the cherry blossom tree, she allowed herself to lay under it until she drifted off to sleep.
Amber jolted up from her spot, stretching to ease the slumber from her bones.
Her eyes settled on the person who had woken her up. Out of all people.
“Ms Jadyn, fancy seeing you here,” Amber uttered sheepishly.
“Amber, you’re not supposed to linger outside the facility during working hours. I know you are a hard worker, but this won’t do it. Imagine if everyone else slacked off like you, this whole country will suffer at the end of it.”
Ms Jadyn paused.
“You’re let off this time, Amber. Go home and start early tomorrow.”
Amber grumbled to herself. No one can slack off, everyone must be perfectly in sync. But it’s nothing new. That was how it has always been.
Fifty years ago was when this facility came to fruition. Coal, wood and other natural resources were scarce, propelling the government to set an alternative plan to replace the country’s energy resources. The solution: Teenagers. The younger and stronger generation of our time. An indispensable resource. Not long after, it was required for all sixteen year olds to enlist at the facility, where the next few years of their lives were dedicated to pedalling on their spin bikes to generate electricity for the country.
No choice was given. It was expected of them all.
Trudging home, the only thing lingering in her mind was her armchair, waiting to greet her after such an eventful day. She dearly longed to huddle in it.
Home, sweet home.
Amber propped herself onto her armchair, snuggling by her bedroom window just the way she liked it. An avid fan of Greek mythology, she continued delving into the tales of her half-read paperback book.
“Sisyphus,” she read.
She recalled learning about this tale from middle school. A man who was condemned to life to roll a boulder up a hill, all the way to the top. And when he was done, it would roll back down. Yet he would push the boulder again and again, a cycle repeating for all eternity.
A sad life, really. All the effort and time wasted, only to be trapped in such a monotonous cycle.
After several more tales, her soul drifted to Mount Olympus, eyes closing and body falling into the comforting embrace of her armchair.
PART III: SUMMER
Rays from the sun burned her skin to a light caramel colour, but Amber didn’t care. It was the time of the year where she could cycle on her spin bike outdoors. Rows of spin bikes were lined up and displayed on the entire area outside of the facility, for all to see.
The Summer Fest.
The festival lasting for three days was a long awaited event for many. It was a chance to be crowned as the next top cyclist, the last one on the spin bike coming out victorious. After the small debacle with Ms Jadyn, Amber pushed herself to do better, giving her all each day to improve her stamina. She had been training for this day anyway, for her mother had been a five-time reigning champion throughout her time at the facility.
It’s all or nothing.
Feet harnessed onto the pedals, she furiously cycled. The summer rays burned themselves deeper into her skin, the only thing that brought a semblance of relief being the piercing air that flooded her lungs.
“You can do it Amber! Make me proud!”
Her mother’s cheers lifted her spirit and kept her going. Though lethargic at this point, she remained optimistic. She was grateful enough to have a different view for once. Her eyes slowly combed her surroundings in an attempt to distract herself from the pain in her legs. But then they stopped.
Her eyes fixated onto a murmuration of starlings soaring across the pale blue sky. Free to fly wherever they please, whenever they want to.
Her feet loosened their grip onto the pedals, losing focus on her task at hand as her eyes trailed the direction the flock was headed to.
“Amber!” Her mother’s glare ingrained itself into Amber’s heart.
Shit, Amber thought.
The momentum she garnered had stopped. She tried pedalling fast once more, but to no avail. Her legs were unable to budge as her muscles strangled her bones.
A loud thud followed thereafter.
She was down. That was it. She failed. Her mother was no longer within the vicinity.
Ms Jadyn caught a glimpse of what had happened to Amber, immediately rushing to her aid.
“Are you feeling okay, my dear?” she queried.
“I’m okay,” Amber whispered.
But no, she was not. What waited back at home was far worse than the body aches she felt radiating throughout her body.
Amber sighed as she opened the front door of her home.
A slap landed across her supple face.
“My girl, what were you thinking? You worked so hard for this moment!”
Amber’s face was distraught, her eyes sunken, but no tears left them. “I tried, mom.”
“I saw you daydreaming in the midst of the competition!”
Another slap was delivered to the other side of Amber’s face.
“You get too distracted easily nowadays. Don’t you want to be the best there is? Get out of my face now!”
Loud thuds and glass being smashed were the only sounds she could hear from downstairs. Pins and needles radiated throughout Amber’s body, starting from the top of her head, passing through her stinging cheeks, her back, and all the way down to the tips of her toes. The only thing comforting her was the warm embrace of her armchair, which was always there for her. Her vision closed in onto the open window in front of her.
A gust of wind burst through the window. The end of summer was near. Amber watched as the first leaf from the oak tree drifted to the ground.
PART IV: FALL
One. Two. Three. Four. Five. Six. Seven. Eight. Nine. Ten.
Another ten more.
One. Two. Three…
It’s eight in the evening. “…And stop! Good work today, everyone.”
Amber bid farewell to the other cyclists. Everyone rushed out of the facility, eager to be in the comfort of their homes. So was she.
Her legs still wobbled to the rhythm of today’s practice. One. Two. One. Two. Just a few more steps home.
She stopped in her tracks. Trails of sudden tears marked Amber’s supple cheeks, flowing down onto the concrete pavement.
“I’m tired!” she wailed.
But no one could hear her cries. Her pleas merely echoed back into her own ears.
She reached into the little pocket of her track pants. A tiny brown box. It was the answer. The end of this monotonous cycle.
Her right hand trembled as she slowly grazed a matchstick against its box, looking at the facility once more. She had enough.
The world she once knew burned brightly before her. Any sane person would run away after causing such a catastrophe, but she didn’t, feeling no remorse for her actions. Flashes of red and blue flashed behind Amber’s back. Even with a set of handcuffs chained onto her wrists, she never felt more free before in her life.
As her eyes bid the facility a final farewell, one could almost see light flickering of flames engulfing the blue of her irises as they burned silently in delight.
– THE END –
Written by: Merissa