“Everyone was being sent to The Next Place, except me: I was being sent to The Better Place. The Better Place accepts one person from every year, the one person who passed. I passed. I was the ONE.”
June 10th, year L
Everyone was being sent to The Next Place, except me: I was being sent to The Better Place. The Better Place accepts one person from every year, the one person who passed.
I was the ONE.
I had been raised in dome 20076328, with the rest of 20076328, for 13 years. Thirteen years of pure childhood, of learning, laughing, and smiles. But when I turned thirteen, with the rest of 20076328, we had to face the real world. We had struggled and faced fear our whole lives, but we had never done it without each other. The real world outside our little lives within the bubble of dome 20076328 was exciting until we had to face it. Until our bubble popped and we had real struggles and problems that can’t just be solved by themselves. Children have innocence, they grow up with their head in the clouds and no-ones cares, but when they have to face the real world, they’re just lost in the smoke that was once their cloud. There are 50 children in my year, 20076328, and 49 of them were sent to The Next Place. And I thought that I was sent to The Better Place, to live in paradise for eternity. I thought I could keep my bubble, but I was so clueless back then.
The powerful sound of the bell rings three times: the train to The Next Place is here. I watch as my friends flee the platform rushing to get good seats, and I watch as the rest of 20076328 board the train. The train has cracked paint, and dirty floors, the letters painted across the side are faded, and the windows are too foggy to see through. Why did the rest of 20076328 have to be sent to The Next Place in this old piece of rotting wood? Its flaws are obvious as if screaming in my face, but no one else seems to notice. To them, it just looks like home, and it looks like home to me too, but I only realized now my new home won’t be like this. I will never fall asleep on an old creaky bed with weak springs, I will never eat from dirty dishes again. I will never wear shirts with holes and stains in them ever again. I try to say this with a smile, but my mouth doesn’t budge. As I say these things to myself, I feel like I’m losing my childhood. I don’t know why this is so hard for me; everyone’s going to a new place too. They seem almost eager to let go, but yet I struggle to cope with this new lifestyle I’m headed toward. The loud whistle interrupts my thoughts, and a large cloud of smoke covers the platform, and I go into a coughing fit. When my coughing finally subsides I blow my hair out of my face and look up, the train is gone.
With a long sigh, I walk to the nearest bench, smooth out my dress, and sit down in the center of the platform that had only just minutes ago been crowded with children. Children I have known my whole life, children I have spent the last 13 years learning and training with. I couldn’t stand to watch the only family I’ve ever known leave on a train without me, maybe the cloud of smoke was shielding me from what was too hard to experience. I like to believe everything happens for a reason; everything has an explanation. Except for this, why do I have to leave 20076328, or better, why do they have to leave me? Now everything is just silent, a sound I’ve never heard. With the rest of 20076328 silence was just an idea, something guardians dreamed of but never got. But now I experience it.
That all vanishes when the white train comes into sight. The white train that will take me from the only home I’ve ever known. When it pulls up at the platform, the doors open effortlessly; I grab my bag and walk over to the open door. In front of me is a vehicle that will lead me to the perfect world I’ve always dreamed of, but I hesitate to board. I stand there in front of the door, clutching my bag and waiting for something to stop me from going, but nothing does. So I board the train. I walk in and sit down, resting my bag beside me, but the door doesn’t close as if waiting for me to second guess myself, but I don’t. As if reading my mind, the door closes, and the train begins to move. I slouch and gaze out the window and watch as my perfect, flawed, world fades from view. But I have to remind myself I’m going to a better place, The Better Place. I know this is where I’m supposed to go, this is my fate, my life, there’s no changing that. For the rest of my train ride, I try to cope with this new idea of change, this new idea of a destiny in which I have no control of.
After hours of trying to cope with my thoughts, I finally arrive at dome #1, The Better Place. I look around at my so-called new home. It’s different than I imagined, the surroundings look just like I thought they would. Uniform houses with the same clean white paint job, and symmetrical trees perfectly spaced apart. But something feels off, almost fake. Maybe it is the lack of color or noise. The train pulls to a smooth stop at the empty station, and I stand up slightly dizzy and stumble off the train unaware of where my own feet are. A cold breeze welcomes me, and a shiver runs down my back. I take a deep breath, smooth out my colorful floral dress encased with roses and thorns, and run my fingers through my tangled hair. I smell heliotrope coming from a nearby garden. I look up at the fragrant purple flowers, the most colorful thing in sight. They look so over-saturated surrounded by all these colorless structures. I continue to look around. The rows and rows of clean white houses go on for as far as see. In the distance I see and tall glass building, The Capitol Building. The Capitol Building is the center of everything, in the center of Dome #1, which is the central dome. Only two things are missing here: colors, and flaws. The definition of perfect is different here, at home perfect was anything that made you happy. But here perfect is predictable, perfect is flawless and artificial.
I hear another train pull up behind me, but I’m too exhausted to look back. I blink my heavy eyelids over my eyes and continue walking. I look in the windows of the identical houses; each one has one person in them, a perfect person. I walk down the silent streets, a sound far too common here, to the main desk. I stumble a little as I walk for I’m not used to such level streets. To prevent myself from falling I look down as I walk. I study each perfectly placed stone on the flat roads and keep an eye on where my feet go as I walk. My eye catches a bright red rose in the distance. I look up and stare at it. It looks perfect, its stem smooth and strong. As I walk closer to it, it looks just as out of place here as I do. It is the color of red wine, the color of beautiful red rubies, it is the color of warmth and comfort. I continue to walk closer to it, caught in a daze caused by its beauty. As I get closer, the rose changes: I notice thorns as sharp as nettles lining the sides. The rose is now the color of blood, of the look of evil flashing in someone’s eyes, it is the color of anger and fear, of loneliness and rejection. The petals appear to wilt right in front of my eyes. I rub my eyes and try to focus them on the rose. Its petals that once appeared soft look hard and crispy. I stare at the rose. A white vehicle rushes by, crushing the rose into the ground. I rush over to the rose; without thinking I gently pick it up and stuff it in the pocket of my dress. I stand back up, blow my thin blond hair out of my face and continue walking to the office.
Usually, by now, I would have slumped over and began to complain about the long walk, but who is there to complain to? It feels weird, being alone. I was never alone in 20076328, I was always either with my friends or my guardians, Caroline and William Smith. They were a loving couple, and they treated me well; I remember Caroline’s warm smile, her face covered in freckles, I remember William’s kind eyes and his big bear hugs that always made you feel safe. Life was so easy in dome 20076328; you always had a companion, everyone knew you, your life was already set up and planned, you just had to live it.
When I approach the main office, I once again adjust my dress and pull my hair out of my face. The building is short, long, and blindingly white, like most of the buildings here. In the building, there is a large screen, opposite to the line of people waiting to be let into paradise. I grip the cold doorknob of the entrance and pull it toward me. I forget to look down, and I trip over the stairs. I stumble into the line of people, and I look up at a large screen on the wall. On the screen, there is a man in a white suit. “Welcome, today one person from 10038344, 55787998, 764646, 1000047, 8574444, 3399292, and 20076428 have joined us in our perfect world. Please wait in line for your tests and background checks,” the man on the screen says cheerily. There is something about his voice, something in his smile that makes me never want to leave this place.
“This is my new home,” I say under my breath. And something about that sentence feels right; it feels true. It feels truer than it ever did in dome 20076328. I never fit in at dome 20076328, even when I forced myself to think that, I always knew deep down that it wasn’t true. But here, in dome #1, it feels like my lips were meant to form that sentence. This is where I’m supposed to be, that’s what the universe wants, and the universe is always right. As I stand here in line, I can imagine myself living here. In one of those small white houses with a perfect, well-dressed family, and kind neighbors. One day, I say to myself, one day soon.
When I finally reach the front of the line, a woman with a kind smile greets me. I walk toward her without hesitation and sit down in a chair facing her desk. “What’s your number, please?” she asks me kindly— her voice, clear and calm, and her smile radiant.
“Girl #767960,” I respond.
She nods approvingly and continues. “Name?” she asks
“Natalie Smith,” I reply slowly.
“Natalie Smith, Natalie Smith…” she repeats slowly looking through her large binder.
I put my hands in my pockets nervously. I had forgotten about my rose. I rub my fingers along the petals of the flat rose.
“I’m sorry I don’t see your name here, what dome are you from?” she says in a concerned tone.
“20076328,” I say proudly.
“Alright, your former guardian’s names, please,” she asks.
“Caroline and William Smith,” I reply in a strained voice, my eyes welling up slightly at the thought of them, and where they could be now.
“I’m sorry no-one from 20076328 is listed here. Our system must have made a mistake and sent you here.” She pauses, and I stare at her in awe. My rose crumbles between my fingers. “I can get you on the next train to The Next Place, at 2:30.” She continues typing something into her computer.
I just sit there, like a dull rock unable to respond. My once iceberg-blue eyes go cloudy as they fill with tears. A silent rainstorm starts in my eyes and drips down my cheeks. My tears fall down my face and drop on to my rose-decorated dress, turning the once colorful roses to dead, dried up weeds. Before I can stop myself, I push my chair away from the table and run. I run out of the check-in office, and down the rows of houses I saw earlier. I’m running, but I don’t know why. I quickly realize the security guards are chasing me, and now I’m just running from them. I thought I finally found where I belong in this bustling universe, I felt a sense of completion and satisfaction, I finally thought I was home. But it is all just an illusion, I will never be truly happy, I never have been. I run because I’m too scared to stop, too afraid to see what they’ll do to me. I can’t stand to be robbed of another chance for a perfect life. Fearful thoughts race through my mind, as I struggle to figure out what to do next. How could I have been so stupid as to think I belonged here, in this perfect world, where I am the farthest thing from perfect? I ask myself, but it’s not me, it’s this universe, this universe that chooses your life for you before you even get a chance to live it. I run like it will make everything go away, I run like I could just run right off this planet, away from this universe. I’ve always been a subservient type of person and I’m not going to start questioning authority now. I wipe away my tears and stop running.