The population of Mercy was moderate with very few children. You could say that they were all children no matter how old they were, they considered themselves children of Mercy. The Ogden’s had two children of an undetermined age; the town’s people thought of them as children because Mr. and Mrs. Ogden could not remember their legal age. Then there was the Boyel twins who turned twelve last year; their sister Pennie was the youngest girl in town, she was eight years old. The youngest boy, Peter Peterson was seven. His mother died when he was a small child so everyone over twenty thought of Peter Peterson as their son. The town agreed in a meeting on November 29th, 1993 after a unanimous vote to adopt Peter Peterson and establish November 29, 1993 as his birthday. Peter had bouts of coughing fits when he was a toddler, but he eventually grew out of that and was considered the brightest child in Mercy.
No one wondered about the odd fact that few people had children and very few families had visitors from outside town. Once Mrs. Ogden’s sister came for a brief stay, but she did not like Mercy. There was talk that she might stay, but after one week she packed her bags and left late one night without so much as a goodbye to the community that befriended her. Everyone else who came for a visit remained and became a member of the community. The people of Mercy never visited outside of town; it was too much work to leave, and most folks had no relatives that wanted them back.
Mercy was a simple town, well planned, neat, and clean. Everyone did their work and did it well, in fact they did it so well they often repeated the work they did to be sure it was done exactly right.
Miss. Delphine ran the local clothing store. Fashion was not a big thing in Mercy; everyone dressed decent enough, and it was not important to keep up with the latest fashions displayed in the fashion magazines that arrived on the delivery truck for the library. The magazines were usually old and outdated which made it impossible to know what was in style. The clothes in Miss Delphine’s shop were all seconds, but they were good seconds, and no one complained. Miss. Delphine got them from a truck that passed through about once a month from a place called Second City. There were jokes about the place, and the people of Mercy wondered if it was full of secondhand stores and people needing a second chance at life after failing the first one. No one in Mercy had been to Second City and no one cared to go there. Miss Delphine paid half the money earned at the shop for the new shipment and kept the other half, that was the arrangement she had with the delivery man from Second City. He counted the money, wrote it down in a logbook and never grumbled.
Mrs. Ogden had a flower shop and sold flowers all year round. In winter she saw no need to close the shop but sold the withered flowers as dried flowers which people bought just as eagerly as they did the living ones in spring and summer. Mrs. Ogden grew all her flowers; and herbs that she kept in pots near the window; the herbs were fresh and free of charge.
Flour, sugar, rice and other staple items came in on one of the trucks from Second City. Mr. Wilson, like Mrs. Ogden paid one half his earnings for the supplies and pocketed the rest.
The present mayor of Mercy was Miss. Ansley. This was her second term as mayor. She vowed to do better this time than she did the last time; her campaign slogan was, BETTER THE SECOND TIME AROUND. Everyone like the slogan and she won the election. Just about every adult in Mercy had been mayor at one time in their life or twice or three times. Mr. Ogden held the record of being mayor five times. The outgoing mayor selected five people to run for the office and announced his or her choices a month before Christmas. The mayor was elected by a vote of hands after church service every Christmas. Each candidate gave two speeches, one the week before Christmas and one on Christmas day before the election, then the vote was held by a show of hands.
The mayor served as police and took care of any duties necessary to the survival of the town. The mayor appointed three people to assist in the office of public works. Those three people took care of the post office, public utilities, and the office of grievance. This was the office that took care of disputes and disagreements that sometimes occurred in the town or between family members. There was seldom any mail coming into Mercy. Sometimes a bill came from Second City or a report form that had to be completed the first week of January by the current mayor. The mayor took care of the report form and mailed it back to the officials at Second City. The form usually requested information about public offices, stores and shop owners and other matters related to who did what in Mercy. It was a long dull business and everyone who had been mayor agreed it was the worst part of the job. But once that was done the job was pretty-easy. There were cards and letters that the people of Mercy sent to each other though they saw each other just about every day; they felt a need to say something nice in a card to cheer someone up or just for the fun of sending and getting mail. Sometimes the grocer sent out bills to those who owed for milk and bread. The church or the mayor sent out reminders of upcoming events at the town center or at the home of one of the residents.
There were four preachers in Mercy, and they took turns preaching and handling church duties since there was only one church. If anyone else got the calling to preach they would be added to that number but so far only four had the calling and that was enough for the work of the church.
On the first Friday of every month the doctors arrived in a large medical van. Everyone in Mercy lined up for their monthly check-up. Their vital statistics were recorded, the each got a shot of necessary medicine, and then they were given their monthly supply of pills. Sometimes people left with the doctors because the doctors felt they needed more attention than they could give in the medical van. Typically, they came back the next month with the doctors. A few times the doctors sent them back after a few days away. They usually arrived with one of the delivery trucks. When asked what they did on those trips away they replied, ‘nothing, I don’t remember any of it’. Once Miss. Delphine said she remembered having delicious food everyday but that was all she could remember. No one considered these excursions away from Mercy as leaving Mercy since they could not remember where they went or what happened while they were with the doctors. So far, they never bothered with the children, only the adults were whisked away, that is until the Saturday the doctors insisted on taking the Ogden’s two children. The doctor told Mrs. Ogden that they needed to give the twins a comprehensive exam. Something they could not do in the medical van. Mrs. Ogden worried the whole month the girls were away. She could not sleep at night, and during the day she and Mr. Ogden tried their best to remember what had happened to them when they were taken. But they only had vague memories of large machines looming over their heads and nurses in blue scrubs coming and going. Mr. Ogden recalled seeing a window and getting up to look out, but when he made it to the window all he saw wad a brick wall before someone ushered him back to his bed.
“You know Mildred, of all the things that must have happened to me that was the only thing that bothered me. The fact that all I saw was a red brick wall. It made me wonder if the world beyond Mercy is worth seeing.”
“Maybe the girls will get to see things we never saw or don’t remember seeing.” Then she started weeping. “George, I just pray they have a good experience. I mean, after all, we don’t know what happens when we go there. I mean it doesn’t seem right that they refuse to tell us what goes on while we there. It’s not fair.”
“I know Mildred, I know. Wilson told me he once remembered having lunch with an important man, but he forgot the name and the face.” He stood up, rubbed his wife’s shoulder, ‘not to worry dear, I best get back to the post office. Maybe there’s a letter from our girls.”
At the end of the month the girls were back, but they seemed changed. They did not look so much like young girls anymore. Mildred was the first to notice how different they were. Peach was quiet, she used to be full of laughter and now Princess was the one who laughed, it was as if they had changed personalities. Mildred was worried, but Mr. Ogden was just glad to have them back. Everyone in town noticed the difference and commented on it.
The two girls helped-out at the library, shelving books and keeping order. On their lunch break Princess read jokes out loud from a book she found in the last shipment.
“I’m leaving, you sure you don’t want to go with me?” Peach said.
“No, I’m not leaving, it’s safe here, I don’t want to leave. Why should we leave?”
“It will be different, something’s not right here.”
“No, it’s scary. I don’t want to be anywhere scary. Besides, they don’t even know they’re mad out there. At least we know we’re mad,” Princess said laughing at her comment.
“We’re not mad, who said we were mad?”
“Insane then, that’s what they call us, insane. Momma said we here because we are probably all somewhat insane.”
They insane too, but they don’t know it. Just because they get to have cars and keys doesn’t mean they sane. Somebody drugging them up and they don’t even know it. They think they got free will. I bet they ain’t got any freer will than us here in Mercy.”
“Where you read all that?”
I read it in one of them magazines about medical research. No one here reads them because they kind-a boring, but I read them.” Peach drew a map on a note pad. “They have too many rules here; out there, they don’t have as many rules and you don’t have to play the games we play. Maybe that’s what free will is. I bet that’s what it is, and I want some of it. No more games baby sister.”
“You know, stupid stuff like who’s going to be the town drunk, that’s insane if you ask me. I never want to be the town drunk. I remember how embarrassing it was when Daddy was the drunk. Suppose I don’t want to be a drunk.”
“Someone has to be the drunk,” Princess argued.
“That’s not true, a town can exist without a drunk.”
“That’s one of the parts we assigned; we need to follow the rules so we can appear sane. I think it has something to do with learning how to be sane.”
“Ha, you believe that it’s about remaining stupid.”
“How you planning to get out?”
“Pan says I can hide out in the linen truck and he’ll drop me off somewhere before he makes the delivery in Second City.”
“They’ll find you. Where will you go? Did Pan offer to take you in or something? Suppose you don’t like it; how will you get back?”
“Princess, you worry too much. I’ll look for the linen truck and hitch a ride back or I’ll act really insane, and they’ll send me back.” She tucked the map she had drawn in her pocket. “Pan says there’s a shelter for people who run away. Remember when Aunt Vie came to see us, Pan says she was supposed to stay, she was assigned to live here in Mercy. They even had a house for her, but she didn’t like it here and she ran away, she didn’t just leave like Mom said, she sneaked out and Pan gave her a ride.”
“Peach, you lying; Pan didn’t tell you all that. I never seen you talking to Pan.”
“He did, on the way back he told me a lot of stuff. You were still knocked out; remember, you didn’t wake up until we got here and even then, Momma had to shake you to wake you up.”
“They might not send you back here. Suppose they send you to one of those other places.
She banged her head on her sister’s shoulder. “One of those places where they drug you up so high you can’t ever come down.”
“They drug us up here.”
“No, they don’t, they just give us medicine, free medicine.”
Medicine is drugs, drugs meant to keep us docile. She reached into her pocket, “See, I choked mine back up, that’s why I got the sense to want to leave, I ain’t docile anymore.”
“You’ll get in big trouble out there. They might not send you back here, I might never see you again.”
“They always send us back; they scan your arm mark, give you a shot and you wake up back here. I’m leaving tonight, Pan will be waiting. You sure you dont’ want to go.”
“I’m sure, Momma and Daddy need us here. We can’t both leave them.”
“They need us to be nutty, because then they won’t have to feel alone in madness.”
“Peach, what in the world are you talking about?”
“Pan explained it to me.”
“And what does Pan know about anything?”
“He used to be one of them.”
“And what is he now?”
“He feels he’s more like one of us, and he says he heard one of the doctors explain to another doctor why they built Mercy. Mercy is like an experiment to see how insane people interact in a confined environment where they think they are normal.”
“That’s crazy Peach, you really believe that?”
“I know it sounds weird, but Pan says it’s true. He said they talking about taking Peter Peterson out of Mercy because he’s too sane. Any bet, they will take Peter next.”
“But Peter belongs to Mercy. Everyone knows that.”
“You mark my word. Pan thinks we not even insane, we just lab rats. He thinks it will be good for me to leave so I can see that I’m just as normal as anyone else.” Come on, let’s get back to work before the head librarian wonder where we are.”
“Maybe Pan is still one of them and he just leading you on to see if you will really go through with it. I wouldn’t trust him if I was you.”
“I trust Pan. Please come with me Princess. Pan has friends who can help us.”
“Help us do what?”
“Help us learn about them, the others, I mean you know the sane ones.”
“I thought you said they weren’t sane.”
“They not, but most of them think they are.”
“After you learn about them what will you do with what you know?”
“I’ll come back and tell everyone here and we’ll all feel good.”
“Why, why will we feel good?”
“Because of what?”
“Because we’ll know we just as good as them.”
“Good luck, I don’t need to go live with them to know that. I already know that. I would rather live here cause it’s the best of two evil place to live. If you find a better place; I might come join you, but right now, I’ll just stay here, thank you.”
Malaika Favorite is an African American visual artist and poet. Malaika won the 2016 Broadside Lotus Press Naomi Long Madgett Poetry Award for her collection, ASCENSION, published in 2016 by Broadside Lotus Press. Her publications include: DREAMING AT THE MANOR, Finishing Line Press 2014, ILLUMINATED MANUSCRIPT, New Orleans Poetry Journal Press, 1991. Her poetry, fiction, and articles have appeared in numerous anthologies and journals. Malaika recently won the Cosmographia Books prize for Spiritual Fiction. Her novel will be published in 2022.