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It was a perfectly perfect day, in a perfectly plastic society. Harmonium’s perfect red brick roads brighten as the perfect sun rises over a perfect horizon. Everything is perfect. It’s perfect because no one here has ever been exposed to anything not perfect. So no one knows how perfectly horrible the world outside their perfect golden gates is. But perfection is only an ideal, a perfect ideal.
Harmonium was a place of privilege. Everyone always said they were so lucky to live in a place such as Harmonium. The adults in this society always seemed to like the idea of Harmonium more than the kids, but as the kids grew, they became more accustomed to the perfect lifestyle, and eventually, they knew nothing else. The city was safe, it had never seen a day of violence, and no one dangerous would ever pass through its tall gates.
Payton was your typical Harmonium teenager. She was tall with blonde hair, blue eyes, and perfect golden tan. She just one of the many beautiful people in Harmonium. In fact, the entire population of the city was beautiful, and also very similar. Everyone was looked the same, it had been one of Payton’s many observations over her seventeen years of life. She would try to make herself stand out from the crowd since she was little, but the all white uniforms made it impossible, and the cosmetics were all the same. It was impossible to stand out in the city. She knew it, and was starting to become suspicious if it. After all, blue paint existed, why couldn’t blue eye shadow or nail polish exist as well? It never quite made sense to her, and no one ever cared to explain.
It was Monday morning, and nearly impossible for Payton to get herself out of bed. She hadn’t been able to sleep much last night. She awoke multiple times from dreams that had been disturbing her sleep for three weeks now. Her mother said it would wear off eventually. She asked me not to talk about it in school. She would die if someone found out there might be something wrong with her. Times weren’t like they used to be. The times Payton had read about in her history books, where it was ok to look different. But things like war that they had also learned about in school was the reason that everyone the same now. Differences were what made the world such a dangerous place.
The dreams that Payton had been having were all about differences. The world in her dream was nothing like the world she knew, but more like the world in the past. It started out with Payton walking to school, just like any other day, but when she reached the school, she opened the door to find that the long white hallways she had known were no where to be found. Instead, the doors acted as some kind of portal, and the world found beyond them was a horrific scene. There was poverty, war, and suffering. People were begging for food and money. There was nothing like this in Harmonium, this dream was the only time she had ever seen someone suffer, or beg. War did not exist anymore, and poverty didn’t seem possible.
However, unlike her mother, Payton’s father had something different to say about these dreams. And since different was never good in Harmonium, Payton wasn’t sure she wanted to hear what he had to say.
“Dad I just don’t understand. Could a place like this really exist?” Payton asked her dad desperately.
“How long have you been having these dreams?” her father responded.
“For weeks. Dad I know you know something. Please tell me. Could a place like this really exist nowadays?”
“I suppose it could,” her father said after moments of silence.
“What do you mean you suppose? Where could this place even be? I have been all over Harmonium, and I had never seen anything like that,”
“I shouldn’t be telling you this honey,” her dad glanced at her with sympathetic eyes and began to turn to leave.
“Tell me what!? I am almost 18. I can handle what you have to tell me dad. Just spill.”
“I could get in a lot of trouble.”
Payton starred at him. And begged for him to tell her everything he knew. It was silent, but he turned back to her.
“There is more to this world than just Harmonium. Actually, Harmonium is only a city, within a state, within the United States. There is a whole world beyond our gates.”
“Dad, what are you talking about? I have seen over the gates, and its only fields?”
“The world is a really big place Payton. You would be surprised,” he knew he had told her too much, and with that he turned and left the room.
Payton was left in shock. The last time she heard about the United States was in her ninth grade history book, and according to that, there was so much difference, that the States didn’t work out, and everyone left. Which now that she thought about it, didn’t make much sense. Where would they go? They couldn’t just get up and leave because their neighbor looked different from them. There had to be something more out there.
Her dad was right. He had told her too much. The authorities came to him at work and told him he was not to breathe another word or there would be consequences. My mother was furious with him. And throughout their fight, her mother kept bringing up “that place”. It was then that Payton knew there had to be a place like in her dream.
The next day at school, Payton spent her whole free period researching in the library. She could find nothing about the world today. It looked like books had stopped being made once the 1960’s hit. But that was the time she wanted to learn about the most. All the clothes and lifestyles of the people in the 60’s were almost exactly like ours in Harmonium. The only difference was that Harmonium had technology, computers, and television. But other than that, it was almost exact. It was as if the people of Harmonium were stuck in time. Ignoring the past and denying the future, and any change that might come with it.
All the search results were very repetitive. Every site that popped up from her search engine was about how perfect of a place it was to raise a family, the safety, the history behind the golden gates, and finally, how the city was founded. She clicked on this. She had never known how the city actually came to be. No one ever told, but she also never really asked.
The site revealed all sorts of things about how Harmonium was “created” only 40 years ago as an experiment. The next couple sites were blocked, but after 20 minutes of searching, Payton came across a new article. The article was against the idea of Harmonium. It was dated June 3rd, 2007. “Harmonium is a sick world created by sick people who do sick things,” that was the first sentence of the article. She kept reading. “Harmonium is not the real world, it is a plastic society. Everyone who resides there is brainwashed. Everything is watched and controlled by the high authorities of the city. And…” the computer screen shuttered and became black. Payton’s eyes were wide in horror of not only the article, but of the consequences she might face because of her wrong decision of opening the article. She stood up and grabbed her bag without taking a second glance at her computer screen. There was a real world.
She was infuriated, and bolted out of the library. She stomped down the perfect white hallways until she reached the door, pushed it open, and ran home.
â€˜Is someone watching me? Did authorities shut off my computer?’
It was all she could think about. She decided she would leave that night. No one had ever left school early before her, and she knew she would be in trouble. The authorities knew she saw the article. And she knew she was part of an experiment. She wondered if she was really brainwashed; she wondered what the real world was like. Finally safe in her room, she began packing, but the second she pulled out her bag, she thought.
“Oh my god, they are probably watching me right now.”
She put the bag into her closet, and began moving her room around so it might look like she was organizing, just in case. She moved clothes from her dresser to her closet, and stuffed them in her bag. She pushed the bag to the back corner of the closet, shut the door, and sat on her bed to think.
9:00. Still sitting, still thinking. She would leave in an hour.
It was one of the longest hours of her life. She lied on her bed with her eyes wide open, and starring at the shadows dancing around on the ceiling. The wind was vicious tonight, as if it were trying to keep Payton at home. But nothing could stop her now. It was 9:59, Payton moved slowly to her closet, and wrapped her sweaty palms around the handle of the bag. Everyone in the city was surely asleep by now, after all, this was Harmonium, everyone had to get exactly 9 hours of sleep, and the only way to do that was by falling asleep at 9:00 p.m. and waking up at exactly 6:00 a.m.
10:00 p.m. Payton turned the doorknob, and stepped out into the same world she had that morning. Her heart was beating out of her chest as she began speed walking to golden gates, and about half way there she could feel the tears blurring her vision, and within seconds tears were rolling down her cheeks, and she was running. She reached the gates, and dropped her bag as she fell to the ground gasping for breath. She knew full and well that the authorities could see her, and would come for her within seconds. She had to act fast. It took her three times to get the bag over the lowest side of the gate, and she climbed up after it. She got her balance at the top of gate, and stood just for second to glance back at the world she was about to leave behind forever. The tears kept running down her face, she was leaving everything, and everyone she had ever known and loved. With a deep breath, she closed her eyes, turned her back to Harmonium, and jumped. Her landing wasn’t graceful in the slightest, but that didn’t matter anymore, because she no longer had to be perfect. She picked up her bag again and ran her hardest down the deserted road, until she had to stop to catch her breath. She turned her head to see Harmonium. The streetlights created a dim outline of the city, and the golden gates were still recognizable in the reflection of the moonlight.
Payton still felt like she was being watched, so she pulled herself up, despite her aching body, and walked. She walked for hours, and according to her watch, it was 4:00 in the morning. She was exhausted, but couldn’t make herself lay down and sleep. She dragged on, and within the next hour, a dim hazy light was visible over the horizon. It wasn’t a sunrise; the sky was still dark blue.
“It must be a city!” she said to herself as she began to run.
Another hour of travel went by, and he sun began to rise. And finally by 8:00 in the morning, the city from the real world greeted her. She walked down a paved road lined with trees, and tiny houses, and at the end of the road was what looked like a city square. She entered the nearest convenience store, and picked up some shampoo, toothpaste, and a couple other necessary things she had forgotten in Harmonium. She walked up to the girl at the counter. Her nametag said her name was Jackie, and she didn’t look a day over 16.
“$23.94 please,” she said in a professional voice.
Payton blinked in confusion, dollars were something read about in history books, the only currency used in Harmonium was penga, and she had tons of that.
“Excuse me? $23.94 please?” Jackie repeated in a firmer voice.
Payton reached in her pocket and pulled out 25 penga hoping it would do the job. Jackie the cashier starred at Payton, glanced down at the money, and then back to Payton.
“Pengas? Is this a joke?” Jackie was frustrated, Payton could tell.
“Uh yeah? Is there a problem with that? I don’t seem to have any dollars on me,” I responded in the most sincere voice that I could.
Jackie began to laugh, and then realized I wasn’t kidding.
“Oh my god, you are like totally from Harmonium. Like for real?”
“Yes, you have heard of it?”
“Of course I have heard of it! It is like, possibly the most ridiculous place on the planet. How did you even get out of there?” Jackie’s frustration had turned into amazement. “I just have so many questions! Where are you planning to go? Who are you staying with? Why did you decide to leave?” She did have a lot of questions Payton thought to herself.
Payton looked down, and when she looked back up, her eyes were filled with tears, and spilled the only words she could muster up.
“I don’t know.”
Jackie looked horrified for a moment, then picked up the phone and started dialing.
“Mom? Yeah it’s me. I am coming home from work early and I am bringing a friend, will you have something ready to eat? ...Yeah mom I will explain later ok? Bye.” Jackie dropped the phone on its receiver and reached for her purse under the counter.
“Come with me,” Jackie led Payton out the doors and down the road a little ways. Jackie took a sudden turn and approached the front door of a small yellow house.
“Are you coming?”
“Oh yeah, sorry,” Payton stumbled up the crooked steps to Jackie’s front door.
Jackie swung open the door to her house. It smelled like oranges and clean laundry. It was so different. The floors were made with old dark colored wood, and the walls were cluttered with pictures. It was nothing like Harmonium. There was no order, or sameness anywhere in the house.
“Hi honey! Who is your friend?” Jackie’s mom greeted us from behind the kitchen stove.
“Mom this is Payton, she is from Harmonium.”
The pan that had been in her mother’s hand, fell to the floor with a loud crash. She bent down quickly to clean up the mess she had made, and stood back up just as fast. Her mother looked suddenly flustered.
“How did you manage to get out of there?” her mother asked, she looked concerned.
“I don’t know, I just jumped the fence and ran all night and ended up here.”
After she heard that, she sent Jackie upstairs with Payton to get settled in the guest bedroom. She handed her towels, and showed her how to work the shower. After a quick bite to eat, Payton went to the unfamiliar room, and fell asleep the second her head hit the pillow.
The next morning, she woke up in a fog, but after she took a hot shower, and brushed her teeth, she felt a little better. Jackie’s entire family welcomed Payton for breakfast; it was silent once they had all looked up at her. After introductions, Payton seated herself next to Jackie.
“Thank you so much for letting me stay the night. I promise I will be out of your way around noon,” Payton realized everyone was staring at her after she said this.
“Oh honey, your not going anywhere anytime soon. Make yourself comfortable, and stay as long as you’d like! Dan said he would teach you everything you need to know about the world today if you’re interested?” Jackie’s mom sounded enthusiastic. Dan was Jackie’s dad, a tall skinny man with messy brown hair, and ill-fitting glasses.
“Actually, I would love to learn about what I am getting myself into,” she said with a straight face. The rest of breakfast was silent.
Payton stayed with Jackie and her family for just over a month, and Payton had learned a lot about the world. Her pengas had been exchanged for dollars, and it turned out she was very wealthy with dollars after her exchange. She had gotten new clothes, and could finally work the cell phone that had been given to her at the beginning of her stay.
After careful revisions, Payton decided she would take a train to New York where a family would be waiting for her to come live with them. A plane seemed too dangerous, and seeing as she could not operate a vehicle, a train was the next best thing. After long tearful goodbyes, Payton loaded her bag onto the train, and stepped up into the huge machine. She walked down the isles of people until she found her seat. Sitting in the seat next to her was boy about her age, maybe older, who was devastatingly handsome.
“Hi!” he greeted her with a beautiful smile, and she couldn’t help but blush.
“Hi,” she said with a little giggle in her voice.
“I’m Jeremy, what’s your name?”
“Well it’s very nice to meet you Payton.”
“Oh yeah. Same to you,” she said with a smile.
After a short nap, Payton was greeted by Jeremy’s beautiful face. They talked for a long time, not really about anything specific. But when Payton brought up Harmonium, she was the only one talking; Jeremy just sat back and listened to her vent about the whole thing. She told him about how she escaped, and what she learned after she had lived with Jackie. After a little more small talk, it was time to switch trains. They said goodbye to one another, and went their separate ways.
Payton pulled herself up into the next train at the station, she found her seat and got settled in.
“Well hello again!” a familiar voice called from above her.
Jeremy was standing right next to her.
“Looks like we are neighbors again!” he said with the same smile he had when he greeted me on the first train.
“Lucky me!” she was shocked.
This was a shorter train ride than the one before, but in that short period of time, Jeremy had gone from being charming, to almost creepy. He asked Payton questions about her real family, and then started getting into her personal life before she had to cut him off. She got up to use the bathroom, as she rose out of her seat, Jeremy’s face grew slightly suspicious. Payton hurried to the restroom. Once she arrived, she washed her face and brushed her teeth for the third time that day. She looked at herself in the mirror and sighed. Then she turned to push open the door.
“OH MY GOD!” she shrieked, “Jeremy, you scared me half to death!”
“Did I? Sorry, I have a tendency to do that to people,” his smile became more and more creepy every time he looked at her.
Payton rushed back to her seat and gathered her belongings before Jeremy could get back from the bathroom. She moved to the dining car, she was starting to get strange vibes from Jeremy, and besides, she was starving. She was moving swiftly through the train cars, and dining hall was closer than she thought. She pulled open the door to the dining car, and let it slam behind her. She tossed her bag in the nearest booth, and turned her attention towards the sign that read, “order here”.
“Hi, how can I help you?” the attendant asked.
“Yes, could I have a burger combo please?”
“Yup, that’ll be $4.00, and I will have it to you in a minute or so.”
As the attendant handed Payton her change, Payton looked up into the dark glass wall where all the food was kept. Her eyes widened when she saw the reflection of the man standing behind her. It was Jeremy; Payton froze at the sight of him, and waited patiently for her food. He began to approach the counter, and suddenly was standing next to her. They made eye contact, and this time Payton didn’t bother hiding the fear in her eyes. Jeremy smiled at her, and she glared back. When the attendant handed Payton her food, she grabbed it, and walked to the booth where she had put her bag. She then spread out so it looked like there wasn’t enough room for someone else to sit with her. Jeremy sat three rows down from her, and kept his eyes on her the entire time.
Payton finished half of her burger, and proceeded to the trashcan to dispose of the rest. She grabbed her bag and opened the door to leave the dining car. Jeremy didn’t flinch; he gave her a head start. Payton practically jogged through the train, and she didn’t stop at her seat. They were only 5 minutes from the next stop, so she found the door furthest from the dining car, and waited for the train to jolt to a stop.
As soon as the doors opened, Payton hopped off the stairs, and rushed to a taxi. She waved at the taxis, but it took them a while to stop. Finally, she found a taxi parked on the side of the road with its light on. She ran over to it and pulled open the door, she threw her bag to the other side of the seat, and got comfortable next to it.
“Where to?” the driver asked.
“Um, I need to get to…” her words froze, and she was suddenly lost for words. Jeremy stared back at her in the rearview mirror. The only thing she could think of now was that Jeremy had to be a high authority. It only took him a second to grab a hold of her arm, and drive a long needle into her arm. Everything went black.
Payton awoke the next morning, and looked out the window. It was a perfectly perfect day, in a perfectly plastic society. And it was perfect because Payton had no idea she was ever in the real world.