Emma Gonzalez, Staff Writer

Coequal is a quiet place where no one talks. Because they’re not allowed to. In Coequal, no one acts out. Because they’re not allowed to. In Coequal, everybody follows the rules. Because they’re not allowed to do anything else.
For as long as I’ve been alive, I’ve always lived in Coequal with the same people doing the same things, at the same times as they always have. Since they were born. No one leaves the walls that surround the city, and no one asks what’s beyond those beige walls. Because they’re not allowed to.
Now, you may be wondering: who makes all of these annoying rules? Well, I don’t really know (because we’re not allowed to ask questions), but I’ve always called them the Higher-Ups. I call them that because they’re allowed to know. They’re allowed to ask questions. They’re allowed to talk and be different and tell us what to do, when to do it and how to do it. They make the rules. The only problem with the Higher-Ups is that they’re all extreme jerks.
And when I say extreme, I mean obsessively extreme. We all have to wear the same uniforms all day everyday, and if any of the Higher-Ups, or their little minions the Guards, catch us with as much as a stain on our stupid, white, button- up shirts, or an untied shoelace to our stupid snobs, or a single wrinkle on our stupid, black khakis, we’re sent to Maintenance. We aren’t allowed to to be all that different even if we were born that way. Every single person has to be a certain height, weight, and color. We all have to measure at 5’ 5” exactly. If your shorter, you’re in shoe lifts for the rest of your life, if you’re taller, you get surgery to be shorter. If you weigh more or less than the specific weight of your age: surgery. There are 3 colors your allowed to be: dark, tan, white. Like deathly pale. Like unnaturally ghost white. If you tip the scale even a little you either live with a spray tan the rest of your life, or you get your skin bleached.
If you show even a little bit of resistance while they do any of these things, you get sent to Maintenance. What’s Maintenance? I hear you ask, well, Maintenance is where they take you when you’re too different. You have to wear the same grey jumpsuit with a number on the back and work. For the rest of your miserable life. You lose your one rest day and you can never see any of your friends and family again (technically they’re called our peers(“Friend” and “family” are too inviting of terms)) While the whole no talking rule is pretty strict in our day to day lives, they somehow are even more strict about it in Maintenance. You are not to speak unless you’re spoken to by a Higher-Up. For the rest of your miserable life.
So Maintenance sounds pretty sucky, right? Guess who forgot to double knot their black and brown snobs this morning. Moi.
Guess who got caught by a Guard this morning in a school line this morning? Moi.
Guess who is now a new member of Maintenance?
You guessed it, this little 13 year old boy that already misses his mommy(technically Parental Unit F). When the Guards confronted my teachers about this they were perfectly fine with the decision of taking me to Maintenance because, and I quote, “He talks too much. He seems to think a lot too! During rest hour he talks to so many kids! He is a danger to society.”
This “danger to society” climbed into a grey jumpsuit with the number 32 on the back. It smelled absolutely disgusting, like it hadn’t been washed since it had been manufactured. I was lead to my new doormatory by a Guard. The room was pretty big, but I didn’t really notice because of all the people that were crammed in there. I was lead to my “mattress”, which was really just cardboard wrapped in a blanket. Three other people were overlaid on top of my mattress, none remotely in the same age group. One was a wrinkly old man that couldn’t have been anywhere under seventy, the other seemed to be around forty, and the last one was a teenager. I scanned the room and saw that, besides a couple of boys my age, I was probably the youngest one here.
I didn’t really get a chance to settle in, because soon after a guard came in and lined us up. One man somehow had managed to put his jumpsuit on upside down (not backwards, not inside out, but backwards) and he was grabbed quite aggressively and thrown out of the room. I heard him yelling as four other Guards came and dragged him away. I looked straight ahead, even more terrified than before, as I heard my number be called.
“NUMBER 32,” yelled a guard. I stumbled up to him. “The President wants water,” said a Guard shoving a glass in my hands, “Go give it to him.” I gawked at him. Where was the President? I didn’t even know we had a President! The Guard saw my confused face and rolled his eyes. He pointed out the door, “Down the hallway, out the main doors there’s a second building with Guards. Tell them why you’re there, then go to the second corridor and to room 9.”
I tried my best to remember his instructions and eventually made it to room number 9. I knocked on the door and a middle aged man opened the door. He was tall and very very thin. He had a navy blue suit on and had more grey hairs than he should at his age. In fact, all of him looked alot more withered and older. He had bags under his eyes, wrinkles on his face, and sad hollow eyes. He looked down at the glass said, “Ah, thankyou.”
I stood uncomfortable. Should I say “Your welcome”? Should I leave? He took the glass and started sipping at it. His hand quivered and he dropped the glass, spilling water all over himself. After he dropped it his hand continued to shake, as if he had held something weighing a thousand pounds, instead of a glass of water. He let out a frustrated grunt and sat on his bed, burying his face in his hands, “I need to stop this,” I heard him murmur.
I went to collect the shattered pieces, but he stopped me. “No, I’ll get them.” he bent on the floor and grabbed the shatters. “What are you in for, kid?” he asked. Wait, did the president just ask me a personal question? Speak when you’re spoken to, I guess.
“I f-forgot to tie my s-shoe laces,” I stuttered. His head shot up and there was a look of disbelief on his face.
“Is that really what Coequal’s come to? Arresting children for simple mistakes?” he shook his head while staring at the pieces in his hands. The look of sorrow deepened in each wrinkle. And that’s when I saw it. A window. And outside there weren’t the beige colored walls, oh no, there was a sky. And a ground and no walls. And freedom.
The President looked where I was looking and chuckled. “I won’t stop you. Can’t lie I’ve contemplated leaving this horrid place too.”
Well if the President says sooo…..
I immediately jumped to my feet and dashed to the window. I heard the President yell just as I saw how far away the ground was. The last thing I really remember is hitting the ground and a sharp pain going up my leg.

“Add learning french to the list. That’d be cool.” I woke up to strangers voices. It was really dark. I groaned and rolled on my side. A burning pain crossed my left leg. I slit one eye open and peered down at my leg. It was wrapped in yellow and white bandages and had a pretty beat down brace around my knee. I moaned again and tried looking in the direction of the voices.
There were four people gathered around a fire, two girls and two boys. One seemed to be about my age (although it was kinda hard to tell because she had her hair covering half her face). She had a black oversized t-shirt, black shorts, black gloves, and black boots. Her hair was way longer than shoulder length hair that girls are permitted, running down to her ankles. Also her hair was blue.
The two boys’ faces looked exactly alike so I’m assuming that they were twins. They seemed to be in their teens and were quite tall. One had a red puffy coat with a muscle tee under, and ripped navy blue jeans. He had a low bun and fairly long hair, with heavy black makeup around his eyes. His brother didn’t have a shirt on at all, and only had on big jeans with a gold belt. Their faces looked the same but their styles were worlds apart.
The girl seemed to be younger than me and had hair to her ears. She had a ring around her nose and a purple dress on. She was looking right back at me with big brown eyes.
“But I already know some french. Like croissant and french fries and-”
“French fries aren’t french, Lucas-”
“Guys he’s awake,” interrupted the girl.The two twins stopped bickering and looked at me. The girl with blue hair stopped staring at a list in her hands and peeked through her hair.
“Oh… Hey man,” one of the twins said awkwardly. “That was one nasty fall you took there.”
I tried getting up but my leg wouldn’t let me. The pain shot up through my thigh and I let out a yelp. Swiftly and silently, the girl with blue hair crouched next to me and put her hand on my leg, immediately making the pain stop.
“Ash, he’s awake,” called the girl. Not long after another girl that seemed my age, maybe a bit older, came from the other side of the fire. She had purple short hair that was half shaved, a black sweatshirt with burgundy pants.
She sat next to me silently, “Are you feeling better?” she asked softly. I nodded my head.
Just then one of the twins shot up and yelled, “Ash! We’re almost done with our new year’s resolution list. You wanna add anything?” He came over to us with the list that the girl with blue hair had been staring at. On it were lots of goals like “Cut off meat, Find an eco friendly way to make blue hair dye,” and so on in neat blue pen. On Other lines, there were “Get stronger than Lucas, Get more black eyeliner and hair gel” in cursive black pen. There was also “Get stronger than Jack, Get better clothes” in sloppy yellow handwriting. In brown pen there were things like “Grow out hair, Build up social skills.” There were lots of other things scrawled in blue, black, yellow, and brown pen. But there was only one thing in purple pen.
“Take back Coequal” was blocked out at the very top.