I was awake in a world with a society unlike the one I knew. The rules were stringent, the laws abundant. Crossing an authoritative figure meant certain exile. Nobody would be informed where those were taken or that they were taken at all.

Nobody ever discovered what happened to them. Everyone believed those taken to be dead, because they are never heard from again. And those who resisted – the friends or family members who refused to accept such a dysfunctional, unjustified society – are treated by the public as a plague – ignoring them out of fear – and most are left alone… Until they delve too deep, whereby they’ll disappear too.

I was in a coffee shop the first time it happened. The atmosphere was jovial and peaceful until a sudden change in the air alerted us all to turn our heads to look at a girl attempting to run but was detained by a surge of 5 authorities. Her brown hair, whipping in the wind, was the only thing I would remember her by as there would be no reports regarding her which would be divulged to the public.

Upon witnessing the girl’s arrest, I felt like I was jerked awake. An illusion in a dream. I realized that I hadn’t seen or heard from my friend in a long time. I tried to call her, but her cell was off. I called her boyfriend, and he said he was looking for her too. It has been 2 weeks since she was last seen. Panic rose as I attempted to contact those who were linked to her. Friends, family, colleagues, students. But none knew where she had gone, and those who understood the implications of my search told me not to worry. They offered no comfort, it was not a reassuring ‘do not worry’ but a withdrawn, defeated one.

My search led me to the college she worked, by then, I had begun to attract attention. I could feel people trailing me, watching me. Unable to contain my rising panic while in a narrow corridor, I bolted for the elevator and a lady with cropped blonde hair raced after me. I threw myself into the lift and barely managed to squeeze into it as it was packed with students. I jabbed the close button furiously and was horrified when it fought to stay open. I thought to myself, this is it. Maybe they would take me to wherever everyone else was taken. But I sincerely doubted it. Luckily, I won. The doors slide close. I looked at those in the elevator uneasily, I could feel their resentment, their fear of being associated with me.

After the elevator emptied, an Indian girl pressed the button for level 3 and upon reaching, she grabbed my wrist and told me to follow her. I did. She had a certain immediacy and desperation, I knew she wanted to help.

“I have lost someone too.”

She guided me to a room, filled with art on the walls and ceiling (which isn’t odd as the college is an art college). She told me that this room was to become an exhibition but for the time being, served as a cover for uncovering the secrets of our government. My friend was involved in this room and disappeared when she made a discovery regarding where people were brought to when they are taken. She asked me to wait for her as she could not stay, but would come back for me. She never did.

I wandered around the room and attempted to talk to a few people who were working on completing their work. I could tell it was to be a rather grand hall. The ceiling was covered in a sketch of Michelangelesque work. The walls were covered in sketches of larger than life paintings and a statue. On closer inspection, none of the paintings had a discernible face. Even the statue looked rather ambiguous. The faces, I felt, would be the last to be painted on – and would be the faces of those lost to us forever.

Time passed, and I couldn’t remember how long I’d been in the room. I remembered that I came to this room for a reason – I remember searching for someone. But all I could recall about my time in the room is people telling me not to worry. And when everybody tells you the same thing all the time, you start to believe them. Now I can’t remember her face, or is it his face? But I feel like I must complete the painting I’ve started. The painting without a face.

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