The line is long, but it always is. Most days, I count the people in front of me. Sometimes, I count the people walking away from the pile. Today, I can’t be bothered to do either so look at the woman in front of me. She has a nice ass and a slim waist, and I wonder what the front of her looks like. Probably horrible; that’s the way life is. Nice things are always balanced by nasty things – I call it Mark’s Law, after myself. The line moves forward a pace, and I shuffle along obediently.
The sky is overcast, a grey that seems to drain the colour out of everything. I can’t remember the last time I saw the sun – months? A year? Every day lasts forever. Sometimes, it’s someone’s birthday or anniversary so everyone puts down their brick and applauds briefly. Then the normality resumes as if nothing had happened, the interlude forgotten, bricks retrieved. I hate it. The show of false emotion sours my stomach and I can’t bear to be part of it usually.
The woman in front turns and looks at me – can she read my admiring (and probably unwanted) thoughts? An appraising glance up and down, a smile, then she turns back to the line. She wasn’t too bad to look at – not a face that deserves such a stunning body, but still nice enough to probably take out to…
…where? My mind becomes fuzzy, as if some static interference is clouding my thoughts. It feels like I know that I should take a woman out to somewhere in order to… ah, I give up. I’ve noticed that my thoughts are less coherent lately, and I spend a lot of time thinking about the brick, even when I don’t have one or need to carry one. My mind sometime races just before I go to sleep; I wonder what brick I’ll get tomorrow? Will I drop it? Will the person in front of me get a better brick than mine? All these questions! I know that it’s just a brick, but for some reason, I care about it. Hell, it’s not even my brick!
Finally, I’m at the front of the queue. The pile of bricks is mountainous, a pile of cuboid shapes of all different sizes and colours. It reminds me of…again, the static fuzzes the thoughts. Something about being a child. Possibly. Instead, I can feel the anxiety of the brick.
It’s simple; the bigger the brick that you choose to carry, the bigger the rewards. Well, potential rewards; there’s no guarantee that you’ll receive what you deserve. In fact, some people tell of others who picked tiny bricks and end up with luxuries and gifts. For what? How can the weak or lazy be rewarded like that? I see people straining and sweating with bricks three times their size without reward. I often see people carry a weight too great for their body and collapse injured – or worse. I also see people carry more than one brick, sliding and falling out of their arms as they vainly try to keep them. Others accept the burden of another brick carrier, walking together like a three-legged racer. Me – well, I’ve always been alone, and will probably die that way, bricks in hand like a good brick-boy.
I select a medium-sized brick made of a light clay substance. It’s faintly crumbly, so I heft it in both arms. It’s not heavy at all, just awkward so I start walking back down the line in steady methodical steps. Some people look admiringly at my burden, some almost sneer; these are the people who will try to load up with bricks and will end up killing themselves. All in the name of brick. I catch the eye of a lovely girl, who quickly looks away from my gaze. I never understand this – is this because a girl also likes you, or is it to stop any unwanted advances? I’ll probably never know, so I concentrate on walking to the Wall.
It’s a triumph of man labour. The wall is multicoloured and of different thicknesses, but is still a wall. It stretches off into the distance forever. In some places, the bricks give off smoke and steam – no one knows why. The more modern bricks are cleaner – some are transparent, some are wooden, others glow faintly with what some assume to be radiation. Some are decorated in a way impossible to be natural or by hand. Others are made from exquisite materials but don’t look particularly strong. There’s a queue so I stand in line once again, supporting my brick, trying not to drop it.
Suddenly, the man appears next to me for the 5th day in a row, laughing and jumping around. I hate him. For some reason, he’s completely naked, and from what I can fathom, is completely insane. He’s always smoking some strange herb and clutching a dented silver pitcher, beer frothing out over the sides as he leaps. He dances in front of me, making a terrible din and foaming slightly at the mouth.
“Where’s your brick?” I shout at him. He leaps around, totally ignoring my question. “Go get a brick like the rest of us!”
He stops, turns towards me, then kicks me in the shin. I topple over, more surprised than injured, and heft the brick onto my lap.
“What…what are you doing?”
He starts to kick me harder and harder, his foot digging into my muscles and bones. I can’t get up because of the weight of the brick on my legs and I start to panic; I can’t get up! He starts spitting on me and kicking the side of my head. The thumps shake my brain and I feel the tendons in my neck strain. I cry out for help but receive a blow to the teeth for my trouble. The blows come in fast and hard; why is no-one helping? Though a bruised eye, I can see other brick carriers stood watching the assault but not particularly interested in saving me from this madman. This is my life they’re ignoring! How can they not stop this man killing me?
A blow to the back of the head sends stars through my vision and I slump backwards. Suddenly, I decide that the brick must go; my life is more important than bricks. With a painful shove, it slides off my lap and I leap to my feet, another couple of punches making contact with my cheek but the adrenalin rush completely cancels out their effect. My assailant is still trying to punch me but, more out of fear of death than any fighting prowess, I avoid the blows and land a punch straight into his face. I feel bone crunch and flesh give way. The yob stumbles backwards clutching his nose, then bellows up at the sky. I notice that his mug is on the floor at my feet, spilling out their alcoholic contents, and I kick it away. This enrages him and he rushes towards me, but I meet his rush with another punch and he falls.
I’ve never fought anyone before, not in physical combat. Equally, I’ve never killed before either, yet what happens next is something programmed into my very soul, underneath the section labelled “survival”, and comes to me more naturally than any act of lovemaking or bodily motion.
I kneel on the man’s chest, wrap both hands around his throat, and choke him until he is dead. It takes less than 30 seconds, and I stare him in the eyes the whole time, as if forcing his soul from his body with my mind. I feel something just before he passes away; it’s a strange sensation, something like pity but for something that I have a primal fear of. What a bizarre feeling.
I finally let go of the dead man’s neck and stand up. My body aches and complains, but I am not badly injured. Other brick carriers gather around me, not sure how to react to a man who has just killed his attacker. Does this make me a proper murderer now? It’s not like I went out of my way to kill him; he was my tormentor and someone who could have killed me, so I simply made sure that he could not harm me again.
One of the officials makes his way through the crowd. He is dressed in the usual blue and white garb of the Brick Officiate, their only concern to make sure that bricks are carried properly and to ensure that we carriers don’t overstep our station. His pale face regards the scene; the fallen but undamaged brick; the dead vagrant on the floor; the dented ale mug; the smouldering spliff; the badly bruised but defiant me.
“You killed him?” he asks in an official tone.
“He attacked me first. I feared for my life, so I killed him before he could kill me.”
The bluecoat thinks for a second. “Where is his brick?”
“He didn’t have one.” There is a slight gasp from the audience; not carrying a brick isn’t that popular amongst this society. Not pulling your weight, literally, means that everyone else’s burden is that much greater. He was a slacker.
“A non-brick carrier. What is this?” The official nudges the spliff gingerly with a toe.
“I think it’s a drug, sir” says someone from the crowd. Again, drugs aren’t seen as a good thing.
“And an ale mug. This non-brick carrier was drinking and smoking drugs, not carrying a brick and assaulting you. Is that your brick?”
“A sizeable brick. A good clean brick.”
“However,” he continues, “you have killed a man. To prison for you.”
“Wait – he was going to kill me!” I can feel panic creeping up me, my life suddenly taking a sharp and scary twist. I don’t like this.
“I’m sure he was,” agrees the bluecoat, edging closer to me, “and when he did, we would have been able to arrest him for your murder. However, he didn’t, and therefore you killed un-necessarily.”
“So I would have had to wait until he had killed me in order to legally kill him, to defend my own life?”
The bluecoat beams. “Yes! Exactly. I’m sorry that you’ve only realised that now. To prison. 15 years.”
“That’s…not really fair, is it?”
“It’s completely fair. You can’t just go around killing people y’know.”
“He takes my arm and gently guides me through the crowd of bricks and faces, all looking at me with a mix of sympathy and interest. Poor brick-boy, their faces say, but better you than me.
One of the crowd jumps out in front of us. He is a small man, dressed in a checkered brown suit with a matching hat thrust onto his head. He waves a folded paper around as he shouts. “Look at this! An unjust sentence! Our officials have got this wrong! The innocent defend theirselves just to be punished by those that ought to protect them in the first place!” The small man shouts again, but louder this time. People gravitate around us, closing us in. “If the officials can’t keep the peace, we should have people that can! Look at what happens everyone! We should rebel! The many can break the few!”
“Ah,” stammers the bluecoat, releasing my arm quickly, “OK, what about giving you your sentence but you don’t have to go into prison unless you kill someone else.” He looks at the shouter for… approval? Congratulations?
There was a pause, then the small man hollers, “Look at this! Officials grant mercy on the innocent! Your faith in those who work for you is just! The innocent freed! Take faith in your officials!”
The crowd applauds, then disperses quickly. Soon, I am left on my own – well, with my fallen brick. I hobble over to the dusty spot where I had discarded it and look it over; not a spot of damage, thank goodness. I put my fingers underneath it, heave…and fall down in agony, needles and fire ripping into my back. I writhe, breathless, wanting to scream but without the capacity in my lungs to. Slowly, the pain subsides and I struggle to my knees. A shadow falls onto me and I look up into the inhuman face of a robot.
“Allow me,” says the robot, heaving the brick onto its stumpy metal torso, “I will assist you since you are now partially able to perform you duty.” I look at the helper robot, then at the many people trudging backwards and forwards underneath their burdens.
My life may be easier, but it’ll also be more painful. Mark’s Law.