The hem of Anna Nixon’s dress elegantly grazed the marble ground as she brushed her blonde curls from her vision. She shrugged the white fur ruff onto her shoulders and allowed a suited man to offer a helping hand as she entered the backseat of the Cadillac Town car. She readjusted her dress and PV badge, inscribed with Promotion of Virtue, and made sure the envelope was next to her before he closed the door, pushing a waft of warm air and vanilla perfume out of the car. The front door opened and the suited man entered smoothly, along with a front of crisp winter air. He adjusted the heat, allowed the cabin to return to a pleasant temperature and put the car in drive before exiting the hotel roundabout. The back of the center console slid down, exposing a tray which held a bottle of sparkling cider and a glass.
Anna poured herself a glass and sipped the sweet drink while glancing to her left where her invitation lay. Even after Decades of public service, an invite to the Federal Drug Prevention Administration – One Hundred Thousand Incarcerations Gala hosted at the Plaza Hotel on Fifth Avenue was an incredible honor. New York City, one of the first major cities in America to adopt neo-prohibition had inspired her to successfully Lobby for America to recognize neo-prohibition nationwide and a record high number of drug incarcerations. After all, peace and prosperity should be for everyone.
The car drove smoothly through the city, rich lights illuminating the evening cityscape. Skyscrapers, adorned with advertisements towered over highways and monorails which snaked between them. Distant sirens wailed through the streets and mixed with the soft sounds of sprinkling snow.
The car took another turn onto a street lined with shops and inhabited by swooning couples and happy families getting some Christmas shopping done. One of the sirens grew until it was right on top of the car and Anna put a finger to her ear as the town car slowed to allow a Public Protection car, followed by a police escort to pass opposite them, likely heading to one of the city’s three new high capacity prisons. The public protection cars were black SUVs that rode high up, with tinted windows and a long racing stripe with Promotion of Virtue written on it in red. Their lights flashed in bright red, illuminating the pedestrians, who turned their heads and paused what they were doing to wave and hold two fingers to their mouths, signing thank you to the Virtue Officers. Nixon smiled innocently and did the same through the tinted windows of the car.
The town car approached its destination and Anna opened her compact and adjusted her lipstick and fluffed her hair before returning it to her bag. As the car slowed to a stop in front of the snow dusted steps of the Plaza, camera flashes illuminated her fair skin, making her youthful freckles sparkle like specks of glitter. The driver exited the car and walked around to the side, opening the door and pulling the protection of the car’s tinted windows away from Anna’s eyes. A sea of cameras flooded her field of view and the flashes left sparkling orbs floating through her vision as suited men led her up the stairs.
Reporters practically trampled each other to get to the edge of the crowd and waved their microphones, one on top of another to get nearer to Anna. One reporter with a particularly loud voice shouted “Anna Nixon tell us about how you’re feeling tonight and what it means to be here!”
Anna paused and turned to the reporter, smiling. “I think we’ve all been waiting for this moment” she said sweetly, reciting a paragraph she’d been studying for weeks. “It’s so incredible that the work my colleagues have done for New York is a reflection of work being done around the rest of the country. By eliminating drugs, we’re making America a better, safer and stronger community. Tonight is really about celebrating neo-prohibition and the peace and prosp -”
The wail of another siren had interrupted her monologue and an ambulance pulled up to the other side of the street which housed a small corner store, sandwiched between two large office buildings. Two public protection cars followed and parked beside the ambulance, their red lights drowning out the flashes of cameras. Virtue officers threw open the doors and hopped out. A wave of reporters gathered around the huddle of vehicles, and the cameras whirled around to point at them.
The people nudged each other and pointed to the center of the mass in disgust, and Nixon craned her neck to see what they were looking at. The trunk of the ambulance opened and EMTs along with Virtue officers in hazmat suits with bright red PVs printed on them wheeled out a bright yellow gourney, pushing it towards the small steps of the corner store. The subject of the crowd’s gaze was lifted from the center of the scene and placed on top of the gurney. Anna crossed her arms and stared at the boy, no older than fourteen being wheeled from the crowd, white snowflakes contrasting with the darkness of his skin. His clothing was soaked in vomit, emerging from cracked purple lips. His arms and legs, mostly uncovered, were twitching back and forth. His head fell back and Anna looked into his glassy eyes before one of the officers pulled a sheet over his body, with “DRUG CRIMINAL” printed in red over it.
The moment had been ruined. The EMTs drove off with the twitching corpse of the child, and two lingering virtue officers stormed the corner store. Their black batons easily smashed through the thin glass of the store windows. The two flashes at the store counter would have been lost in the sea of camera’s if it wasn’t for the bangs that accompanied them. Two more gurneys were wheeled in and two more drug criminals were wheeled out.
Disgusted by the carnage, Anna stumbled up the stairs to the doors of the hotel, supported by two suited men. They guided her into the building, through the gold adorned lobby and into an elevator. The doors closed behind them and she was left staring at a thousand reflections in the mirrored walls. The virtue promoting she witnessed was far more violent than she had imagined. But it served the boy right, meddling with illegal substances. The elevator chimed, Anna had reached her destination.
The elevator doors opened and Anna walked into the most beautiful room she had ever seen. Walls adorned in gold motifs were illuminated by meter long crystal chandeliers and stretched as far as she could see. Marble arches lined the room, with planters housing budding fruit trees and poppy flowers sprouting from the soil. The carpet was entirely crushed velvet, and small tables filled the floor, all draped with crisp white table cloths, fine china and golden silverware. It seemed as if thousands of people filled the room, each woman dressed in couture with fine jewelry refracting light onto her peachy skin and each man in an impeccably tailored suit with perfectly combed hair brushing their white collars.
Waiters in Tuxedos waded through clusters of party goers, and one approached Anna, now standing in the center of the room, taking in its majesty.
“To lower anxiety and brighten spirits,” the waiter said, holding out a small gold flaked mushroom. A woman adorned in a royal blue dress and pink rubies, eyes shimmering red and fighting control over a fit of giggles, looked over to Anna and remarked
“I would take him up on that offer,” her huge pupils struggling to fix themselves on Anna.
Not wanting to be disrespectful, Anna took an orderve/ hors d’oeuvre from the silver platter and the waiter walked away, continuing the distribution. The truffle was earthy, almost acrid, incongruous with its surroundings, but as she continued, its calming effects started kicking in, soothing her senses.
As she ventured deeper into the room, the tables gave way to feather floor cushions, inhabited by party goers who had traded their suits for velvet robes and slippers, and seemed to be playing flutes over tables, exhaling clouds of frost that glistened under the chandeliers. Feeling a new wave of optimism and levity, Anna joined a handsome man and tried the flute out for herself, inhaling a breath of powdered poppies and exhaling a puff of frost. She allowed happiness to flow through her body and exhaled her worries. Her eyes started to droop, and she rested her head on the pillow.
An hour later, Anna awoke to a room echoing with laughter. Illuminated in a strobing red light, dancer’s necks stretched far into the air and the weight of the heads attached pulled them down, bending into Anna’s vision and laughing in her face. The chandeliers rained diamonds onto her and the poppies were growing into a thick forest, blocking her exit.
Anna ran. Ran through the thickening forest, crystals impaling her back, her legs buckling under her. She tripped, a dancing couple waltzed out of her way, cackling at her. The forest of poppies evaporated as she smashed through it, sending a sand storm of white powder onto the carpeting. She crawled into the elevator and face planted into the velvet.
Anna looked up into the mirrored walls of the elevator, limbs twitching in fear, lips a dark purple, her dress soaked in vomit and all one thousand of her eyes, glassy and motionless but no gurneys came.