Runner Up: Amy Lewis
Amy Lewis is a Ph.D. candidate in the department of political science at Colorado State University. By day she speaks in questions, scholarly provocations based in fact and spun with data. By night she dares to speak in answers camouflaged in stories. She has written numerous short stories over the years and is only in recent months beginning to share them. Her story, “What Unicorns Think” was short-listed in the Multi-Story short fiction contest. She is also the author of a quartet of young adult novels, reimaging Greek mythology in which princesses are the heroes, not the objects, of their own stories. These novels tarry with all the other tidbits of information on her hard-drive, awaiting a good going-over after she dispatches with the task of her dissertation.
Crate Training for Kids
It was destined to be a best-seller. The book, Crate Training for Kids, drew upon the wisdom of psychology’s greatest scholars—Pavlov, Skinner, Milgram, and Zimbardo—and distilled it into the most sought-after weapon in human history, an elegant instrument of parental control: the crate. It helped, of course, that the technique was used to great success on dogs in countless households across the planet, a fact the authors were quick to point out. Parents who owned dogs were probably familiar with the methods advanced, the basis of which was the confinement of a socially innocent creature within a cozy space until well after puberty, until the loved one learned that freedom was a gift given at the discretion of the parental authority. The more they whimpered, the longer they must stay inside their crates. Give them treats and give them toys, but do not give them release until realization dawns that submission is the most worthwhile decision, until they know in absolute terms that submission is the speediest avenue to freedom.
In families from New York to Santiago the matter was settled: man’s best friend was not so different from man himself; and thank goodness for that, the overworked, overspent parents expressed in the unison of their book purchases. It outsold the Bible in a matter of months; the second edition was anointed with stickers heralding this impressive feat. Orders for children-sized crates soared (no one seriously considered putting their offspring in the excruciatingly cramped spaces imposed on dogs—the exception being toddlers in the throes of potty-training). Silent factories across Middle America, once monuments to rusted hopes and bygone optimism, roared to life in service to the growing demand for what the marketers sold as “baby cartons” and “kiddo corrals.” Sparkling metal contraptions coated in hues of pink and blue, and some even designed from bamboo for the ecologically-minded family, piled onto truck beds which, in turn, rode over interstates, advancing across America to be carried by whatever means necessary to distant markets.
Without a doubt there were objections at first. Some parents, those who could afford an antiquated mindset, found the very idea offensive. And then there were the child service agencies that worried crate training violated their inflexible and highly-centralized definitions regarding child abuse—such is the nature of bureaucrats. Lawsuits were not infrequent. But the momentum of history favored crate-training, and within a decade the results spoke for themselves. Youth-perpetrated crimes declined precipitously. Schools that had implemented crates during recess witnessed a dramatic increase in test scores. Employer demand for crate-trained employees grew in steady increments. Governments offered expedited citizenship papers to crate-trained immigrants. Entertainment venues provided steep discounts on admissions for children who were certified crate-trained. Thus, the opposition dissolved in a wave of popular opinion. Within a generation, few could seriously contemplate how child rearing happened before crates.
And then the invaders came.
It wasn’t like the movies at all. If they were from space, we never saw their spaceships. They must have been here all along. To our interminable shame it took them less than a day, less than an hour. No one seemed to remember when all those loudspeakers were constructed or could recall why there seemed to be so many of them, even in sparsely populated regions, but the effect was utterly predictable, the timing impeccable. In just a single moment shared from New York to Santiago, the speakers blared in unison: CRATE! At once, a thousand million people and more trundled obediently off to their crates, and awaited the word that would set them free.
Their bodies rot in those cages still.
I wasn’t crate-trained. I never enjoyed the things the others did, and I don’t enjoy life much now either, here in the underground, feeding on rats and mold and the stomach-wrenching waste of the invaders. I guess you can say I don’t know what it’s like to be content, neither does anyone else beneath the gutters, belching with hunger and raging with impotence. We fight the amoral war of the technologically-inferior; as we battle, desperate, afraid, and resentful against the Earth’s new masters, they have taken to calling us aliens. Sometimes we feel like they are right. The place above is not our place anymore, but we kill for it all the same.
We know one thing however, and even they haven’t tried to obscure this truth: the invaders, they don’t raise their kids in crates. And neither do we.
Not anymore, at least.