I stare at the large screens before me where images and messages flash before my eyes every second of every day. The wood of the fence I sit on cuts into my thigh under my white gown, pinching my flesh. Yet I attempt not to move. The messages on the screen told us not to.
Quickly glancing around, I take in the picture-perfect field surrounding the long fence and line of screens. The tall grass and wild flowers dancing in the soft breeze. The soft, white clouds sail across a crystal blue sky. A rabbit eats the lush vegetation only feet from where I sit. Everything seems too good to be true.
Something is missing.
I look down at the palm of my left hand. My finger brushing the little brown seed cradled between my reddish-tan skin. I’ve been holding on it for as long as I can remember. Sensing my neighbor giving me concerned glances with his almond-shaped eyes, I close my hand. Each of us has a seed of our own, each as diverse as the person that carries it. The only thing that makes us all look the same is the white clothing we have been instructed to wear by the screens. We also sit in a particular pattern, which lines us up boy, girl, boy, girl all across the fence. Yet we know nothing about each other. We’re instructed not to talk. Not to interact.
I’m getting sick of instructions.
Glancing around once more, I feel the urge to gaze over my shoulder. This is, of course, forbidden per the screens’ messages. However, I have already done it once. I remember seeing beyond the pedicured tree line a long black bar stretching as far as the eye can see, just like the fence and screens. Below the bar was a reflective surface, which the sunlight radiated against, making it impossible to see what it was made of. I had only looked at it for a few seconds; however, since then, I felt something calling for me beyond the tree line. As if I’m destined to travel there and discover something new in my life. Again, this is not allowed. And as far as I can tell, no one has even tried.
Feeling secure again, I open my hand and stare at the seed I carry. Why do I even have it? What is it meant for? Am I to plant it somewhere? The field here doesn’t need any nourishing. Everything is provided. The messages on the screens tell us so. So why would each of us be given a seed if we’re not meant to plant them? The itch to move and travel starts to consume me. My heart pounding and aching in my chest. My legs twitching. If nothing else, I’m getting sick of sitting and watching the screens.
I want more from life.
One last pinch from the wood is enough to get me to swing my legs over the fence toward the tree line and hop into the tall grass. I can feel the eyes of my neighbors on me as they gasp and whisper. I wait for a second, anticipating some sort of punishment for disobeying the screens. A bolt of lightning, or a strike from a snake, or even a bellowing voice from above. Nothing. No sirens, no loud voices, no growls of any kind of predator. Only the gentle breeze and the continued whispers of my neighbors. Without looking back, I start for the distant tree line. The walk itself seems to take hours. Each step echoing with more and more footsteps behind me. I do not dare look. If it’s my neighbors in an attempt to rescue me, I won’t give in easily. Something about this just feels right. Like I’m finally traveling in the right direction. Even the seed in my palm is becoming warm to the touch.
This is something I need to do.
Once I break through the tree line, I’m greeted by a wall made of tall thin panes of glass that reach twenty-feet into the sky. The tall grass and beautiful wildflowers stop right along the bottom edge of the wall and bare soil and rocks extend into the distance on the other side, leading into several ruined towers that have collapsed into themselves. Before me is a crowd of people looking in. They are similar in appearance to my neighbor and me, only their bodies are covered in dirt and their clothing is dingy and torn.
I walk to a young woman, who’s no older than I am. Her right hand clenching a child of maybe seven years old. Her other hand is closed tight in a fist and placed over her heart. I stare at her hand, then slowly lift mine. I open it to reveal the seed. The woman’s emerald eyes widen, then she looks at her hand and removes it from her chest. She opens it to reveal a few droplets of water cradled in her bronze skin.
The woman and I gaze at each other for several breaths before I turn my focus on the ruined towers behind her. It suddenly dawns on me what I have to do. The whole purpose of carrying this seed and traveling here. Cupping the seed in my hand, I whirl around to find at least a hundred of my neighbors standing behind me. Their attention focused on the wall and the people on the other side.
Undeterred, I survey for something that would help me break through the glass. Anything heavy or sharp. Most of the rocks are on the other side of the wall. However, sitting next to a tree rests a squirrel-sized stone. Careful not to lose the seed I possess; I lift the stone with both hands and yell for everyone to get out of the way. My neighbors scatter into the tree line while the people on the other side of the wall take several steps backward. I throw the stone, only for it to bounce off the glass. A tiny crack forming where it impacted. I pick up the stone again and hurl it at the same spot, then a third time, then a fourth. Finally, the crack takes on a life of its own, reaching in all directions and stretching for the heavens. I take hold of the stone one and throw it one last time.
The stone crashes through the glass, turning it into millions of mini shards that start to rain from overhead toward the ground. I barely have time to cover my head and neck as I curl myself into the earth. Pain rips through my back and exposed limbs while liquid drips down my skin. Once the sound of rain comes to an end, I hesitantly raise myself. The majority of glass on my back sliding to the ground. I inspect the shallow wounds that have torn my gown and stained it red. Yet when I see the opening in the wall, the dagger-like pain and ghastly sight didn’t matter anymore.
I walk over the glass onto the barren dirt of the other side. I hear my neighbors following while everyone is whispering. I hobble to the woman I saw earlier through the glass with the small child. I once again show her the seed and nod toward the ruins behind her. The woman glances from me to the seed to the ruins and smiles in return. A light in her eyes suddenly shining brightly. I close my hand and start to limp my way through the crowd toward the rubble. Both neighbors and strangers helping me along my way when the pain in my limbs and back become too much to bear.
Finally, we come to the center of a large concrete square that has been cracked down the middle, revealing a line of soil. I step up to the crack and gaze at the people around me. A blend of white and gray clothing speckling the landscape. They are all staring at me, their eyes wide. No longer able to stand, I lower myself to the hard ground and carefully plant the seed I have carried all my life in dirt between the crack. Then, the woman I just met kneels down next to me and pours the water in her hand over the seed. Instantly, a sprout appeared from the dry earth and started to grow rapidly into a tall, wide tree. The woman helps me to my feet as the roots extend and push apart the remaining concrete.
I marvel at the tree growing before my eyes, then peer around to see my neighbors pairing with other strangers, one planting a seed while the other gives it a drink of water. Vines, wildflowers, bushes, and trees begin to dominate the ruins, breaking and pushing the concrete and rocks a part. My heart races in my tight chest. Tears run down my cheeks. The feeling of joy, accomplishment, and pure light lightens an unknown weight from my body. When I jumped off that fence, I never imagined where my path would lead me. I never knew what I was looking for or what I needed to do to find it. And I couldn’t have done it alone. I only had part of the solution. Only by working together could we turn this landscape from a wasteland into something more.
A new paradise.