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To the young girl who stared out of her bedroom window, the setting of the sun was a very violent business. Surely, as the glowing orb disappeared behind brick apartments and steel skyscrapers, the unfortunate buildings would be burnt to a crisp. The vengeful sun would press against sturdy frames and leak into open windows, moving west until every inch of civilization was aflame. Then it would reach its sharp rays like blazing swords into the heavens and pierce the sky until all turned black.

But this process was hardly shocking to the young girl. Like all children in the year of 6007, she attended public school and received a proper education. She had been warned from the age of five to beware of the dangerous forces that controlled the outside world. In fact, the setting sun was hardly the most worrisome; it paled in comparison to the droplets of poison that fell when the sky turned gray, or to the tall blades of grass that entwined themselves around the feet of small animals. By far, the biggest menace was Fresh Air, an intangible monster that swept the land, invisible but deadly. Air, teachers told the children, dove into the throats of its victims, surged through their blood, and attacked their hearts.

For this reason, the young girl and her classmates traveled to school in the city's network of underground tunnels. The horrifying elements could not penetrate the sanctuary of steel tubes, that wonderful fortress that allowed parents to send their children to school without fear. The school itself, like every house, was constructed of dense metal packed into thick walls. Bullet-proof windows adorned the sides of the building, ensuring that the threat of nature would not be forgotten, and reminding the students to remain in constant vigilance.

It was out of one of these window that the young girl stared on a Tuesday during the month of April. She noticed that the menacing sun had brightened in the past few weeks, threatening the land with its constant flame. The venomous grass appeared greener, a sure sign that it, too, had grown stronger and more deadly. Worst of all, a new threat had arisen in the shape of budding flowers. The young girl knew that every spring, the dangerous plants sprayed an odorous gas into the atmosphere, which mixed with Fresh Air to create a fast-acting poison.

“Now, children, we will begin with the Daily Promise,” announced the teacher. “Please repeat after me.”

Rows of students stood, reciting the oath in a single united voice.

The land and the hills and the trees and the sky
Seek to poison us, kill us; they want us to die.
And so we must promise to be safe and hide,
These dangers can't harm us if we stay inside.


The young girl repeated the lines obediently, still looking out the window. But as she did so, the strangest thing happened. In a moment, hardly more than a flash, the sun sparkled in such a dazzling manner that a shiver ran through her body. The flowers winked. It was an odd moment, such an odd, odd moment, for in that moment the outside looked beautiful. The girl closed her eyes and opened them again. She thought of her teacher's instructions and nature appeared terrifying and deadly once more.

The day's lesson was history. The teacher described primitive tribes that attempted to form successful civilizations but fell victim to terrible natural disasters. Those that remained standing, greedy for land and resources, fought among themselves. Eventually, humanity was extinguished – except for one tribe, which hid in a network of caves. These caves became the steel tunnels that passed underneath the city.

The young girl tried to listen, but before she could copy down notes, the odd moment happened again. This time, the blue sky sparkled and the big white clouds that suffocated birds seemed to bounce merrily in the sky. The young girl became so disoriented that she lost track of the lesson. The day progressed, but the flash occurred every few hours, and then every few minutes, the beauty intensifying as the intervals became shorter. As the girl's initial confusion disappeared, she began to feel a strange longing – a desire to touch the flowers and the grass, to smell the deadly Fresh Air.

This longing was accompanied by pangs of fear and doubt. The teacher's knowing eye seemed to stare straight through the young girl, as if aware of her thoughts. After all, to leave the safety of the classroom was to enter a forbidden world, a world known to harbor dangers immense and terrifying. The girl's desire seemed ridiculous, illogical, yet she could not forget it. From some unknown place, she felt a burst of determination that caused her to remain after her classmates had left.

The teacher stayed too. She looked at the girl through square, wiry glasses. “Young pupil,” she inquired, “is there anything you wish to tell me?”

“N-no,” stammered the girl. “Nothing.”

The teacher paused but eventually gathered her bags to leave. Before she closed the door she shot one last searching look at the girl. “The sun is bright today,” the teacher said.

Alone in the classroom, the young girl walked toward the door that led outside in case of emergency. In all of her twelve years, no emergency had ever occurred, but the girl had heard that the key was kept hidden in the nearby filing cabinet. She found it easily and inserted it into the lock, heart pounding.

For what could have been twenty seconds or twenty years, the girl stood behind the door with trembling hands. She knew not whether she faced a barrier that saved her from terrible danger or prevented her from experiencing breathtaking beauty. Perhaps it was both. And so she ignored her racing thoughts and turned the key.

The young girl stepped outside. At once, she was hit by a wave of something overwhelming, overpowering. She looked into vast skies that stretched endlessly into the distance, much farther than she had ever imagined. The sun's rays burned her skin indeed, but with delicious warmth rather than terrible fire. And the flowers released a strong scent into the air, but it was a dizzying, intoxicating perfume. And Fresh Air, the feared Fresh Air, leapt into her lungs, and filled her not with poison, but with invigorating life. She was outside, and it was wonderful.

This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.





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flyingpinkgiraffes This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. said...
May 2, 2011 at 9:00 pm:
neat!  cool story idea!  creative, and kind of enviromental-ish.  you know what i mean right?
 
blackswan42 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
May 3, 2011 at 4:21 pm :
Lol yes thank you!
 
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pandacupcakes said...
Apr. 29, 2011 at 2:55 pm:
i think this is really good i liked it :)
 
blackswan42 This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. replied...
Apr. 29, 2011 at 3:46 pm :
Thank you so much!
 
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