Flash fiction – Published September, 2020
The heat of a summer day in Drop Point is nothing to sneeze at, thought Daniel. On a July or August afternoon, the temperature clock built into the side of the tower at the north end of town could read as high as a hundred degrees in the sun. But more than that, the atmosphere of Drop Point lent itself to feelings of oppression and confinement, which when mingled with the scorching sun could make one’s mind wonder about a different place, in a different time.
Not that there was a lot of time to spend daydreaming. The summer was at its peak, and there was no shortage of work to be done around town. Normally, every child under the age of fifteen would be in school during the day, but for the three months of summer school let out so that the children could fill roles in the workforce, helping to assist and run errands for elders so as to allow for as many able-bodied adults as possible to help grow and harvest food.
Daniel had been given the unfortunate task of running messages from the tower (where government workers monitored the progress of the fields and directed labor from the towers top floor) to the various crew leaders in charge of dozens upon dozens of laborers.
The large tower at the south end of town is the largest building for hundreds of miles in any direction, every schoolchild in Drop Point is aware of this fact. It is on the multiple choice tests each student takes in civics, but the question itself is a mere formality. Everyone is aware of this fact. In a town as small as Drop Point, everyone is aware of a lot of the same facts. This is also something everyone was aware of but no one considered, never having experienced in life any place larger than Drop Point, which at last count numbered slightly under a thousand breathing citizens.
Nearly all of Drop Point’s citizens live within a few square miles, with dwellings arranged in a scattershot fashion, following no real organizational pattern, or at least not one still visible once more and more domiciles began construction. There are (ostensibly) only two streets in Drop Point. Main Street is and was the original road in town, at the north end of which stands Drop Point Tower, overlooking the entirety of the settlement and the surrounding land from a height of several hundred feet, topped with a round glass-enclosed room that afforded a magnificent view of the surrounding countryside in all directions. The road itself is paved with stones, wide enough for eight men to stand abreast, as often happened during the annual parade.
Branching off of Main Street in every conceivable direction are alleyways, large and small, augmented by an elaborate network of crooked and haphazardly-built walkways. Some of these are small enough for only one person to use at a time, and the practice of flattening oneself against a wall to slide past a pedestrian headed in the opposite direction was an accepted part of everyday life. Homes often stack five properties deep off the road on both sides, and the maintenance (or lack thereof) of these small pathways and alleys are the business of the homeowners, leaving them more or less in a constant state of disrepair.
The other official street, First Avenue, intersects Main Street about a quarter of a mile south of the tower and runs only west, largely serving to house the main governmental building, city hall, as well as the market square, which now sits at the end of First Avenue, and serves as the center of activity within the town, particularly during the summer, when the market is bustling for more than twelve hours a day as citizens take advantage of the long hours of sunlight extending into the evening.
Surrounding the residential center of town, farmland dominates the horizon. Fields of corn and wheat dominate, standing tall and proud in the summer sun. These fields are interspersed with grazing lands populated by cattle and sheep, along with some orchard land that had begun to yield increasing amounts of fruit, much to the delight of the community.
The ground surrounding Drop Point is dry but fertile, and the movement of water was previously the largest problem faced by the residents of Drop Point. An irrigation system was finally put in place about twenty-five years ago following nearly two decades of planning and labor, and the lake situated a few miles outside of the town proper now waters the thousands of acres of farmland that help to keep the town self-sufficient. The movement of water without labor was a major achievement, one still celebrated every spring on March 1st, the anniversary of the day that the irrigation system began to function. The annual Water Day festivities are a celebration of the community itself, and a reminder of the arduous manual labor from which the residents of Drop Point had been freed.
The creation of the irrigation system greatly reduced the amount of labor required to maintain the fields, and the settlement of Drop Point began to flourish, with the construction of a market square, including a grocer and a medicine-shop alongside several small restaurants, two cafes, and a single bar.
A population boom followed the construction of the irrigation system as well, and the town began construction on a new school building with an attached library, completed in the summer of 2183 and opened to great fanfare. The library project was particularly celebrated, as it required the voluntary donation of every privately-owned book within the community, a sacrifice made in order to allow the entire community access to every available book. Many citizens cherished their small collections of books, and found turning them over to be no small sacrifice. Books offer a rare chance to escape the daily routine of Drop Point, and tell of fantastical times when humans populated the entire world and built enormous cities that chased away the darkness of night with electric light.
Of the thousand people living their daily lives in Drop Point, only a handful will ever have the opportunity to travel beyond the confines of the community; by and large the people born in Drop Point live their entire lives in the settlement. This is a matter of law as well as a matter of practicality. Legally, to leave Drop Point, a citizen must have a pass signed by the Border Authority, an office of the town government. No barrier existed to physically prevent a citizen from leaving, but the reality of the geographical isolation of Drop Point had the same effect. In practical terms, with no settlement within a hundred miles in any direction, and no method of travel besides walking, average citizens never have a reason to travel outside of the town limits. On rare occasions, travelers from the world abroad visit, and their appearance often makes quite a spectacle in a town that only sees a handful of visitors in any given year.
By far the most common type of outsider are the traders, men and women of uncertain origin who arrive (most often) driving wagons pulled by stocky and well-tempered horses. The arrival of these wagons, stuffed to the brim with goods to be sold, were a moment of marked excitement in Drop Point, for the infusion of new wares and trinkets is one of the only reminders that Drop Point exists in a wider world. Although even small goods are often costly, the schoolchildren of Drop Point all dreamed of being able to stand in line at a merchant’s cart with a pocket full of money to spend.
Other outsiders sometimes come to Drop Point. Craftsmen occasionally make appearances, often staying for longer than the merchants, becoming known to the community as they ply their trade to the citizens as necessary. Being such a small settlement, technicians and specialists were a rarity in Drop Point, making the appearance of a skilled carpenter or blacksmith a boon for the community as a whole. These craftsmen often make money training citizens in the basics of their trade as well as practicing the craft itself.
Rarest of all, single travelers with no apparent business in Drop Point may turn up at the town limits. These outsiders are often treated with suspicion by the townsfolk, but are generally tolerated as long as they don’t make trouble. The schoolchildren often tell wild stories of the origins of these mysterious figures, each tale told with more outlandish claims than the last. This practice is only fueled by the unspoken rule that children are not to interact with outsiders, and some figures in the community have argued for tighter regulation of visitors. But the shopkeepers and the bartender are often happy for the extra business, and the strangers generally move on within a few weeks, quickly forgotten by the community, schoolchildren included.
On what felt like his 40th trip up the vertical ladder shaft to the tower, Daniel saw something far in the distance. A tiny figure, almost lost in the haze, barely visible even from the height Daniel was at, two-thirds of the way up the ladder. His jaw hung open, for not only was the figure a man, but he was on foot, heading toward the community.
It was impossible. A few government citizens were occasionally known to try and travel to the nearest settlement, but never in high summer, and never on foot. To do so was to court death.
The message Daniel was running was lost in his head. No matter. This was a much more important piece of news.