I sit alone in an empty room. The walls are bare and resplendently white, like a hospital but so much worse. I sit on a mattress covered with a dank white sheet that matches my plain white clothes. On the opposite side of the room there is an identical mattress, its bareness ringing with the void of a recent departure. An occupant who will never again have to sit on that creaking mattress. Nothing in the room breaks that sickening scheme of white. Not even the pale glow of my skin, skin deprived of sunlight and nourishment for as long as I can remember. Not that I can remember much. My entire memory is filled with day after day spent in this plain white room. I do not know how long I have been here, or even if I was ever anywhere else. It didnÕt used to be so bad when Black was here. At least then it wasnÕt so lonely, or as white. Black stood out in this pale prison with her dark hair and skin. She had never been particularly nice to me and had always stolen pieces of my meals, but I never said anything about it. I always figured at least there was someone in here with me, even if she wasnÕt nice. Then a while ago, I have no way of truly telling time in here, the men in red came and took her. She never came back. They say that those people who leave with the men in red never come back. The men in black are not as dangerous however. They call themselves the caretakers, whatever that means. Caretakers bring the meal trays three times a day and once a day they escort each person to the bathing house to clean up. They are not very friendly, however, and they always call us all mean names. Like Black, theyÕve always called her that because she is dark, and they always say it in such an insulting way, as if it is a crime to be dark. All of us go by the names the men in black give us though, mostly because none of us can remember our own names. I am Plain. I once asked a man in black what Plain meant, and he told me it meant that I am not good enough. We live in a world where we seek the extraordinary, he told me, where we want nothing less than perfection. Being plain meant that there was nothing special about me. After he told me this I began to pay closer attention to the other men in black. Each of them is indeed beautiful with smoothly sculpted faces, soft tan complexions, and excellent builds, but each of them also has another trait that set them apart from the others. Some have large, bright eyes, some have feathery soft hair, some have shapely and colorful lips. Each of them is already beautiful but each has something that makes them extraordinary. They are right; compared to them I am very plain. My skin is nearly as white as the sheet I sit on and pulled tightly over my starved skeleton. My hair, a dull and lanky brown, has been cut off around my ears. My nose is small and my lips are thin and pale. My eyes are the same muddy brown as my hair and surrounded by black rings of exhaustion. I am small, far too small for my age as the men in black tell me. Although I canÕt recall my actual age, the men in black figure that I must be no older than eight years, but that I may be as young as six. The door opens and I am startled out of my thoughts. Two men in black enter, with a young boy walking between them as if condemned. The young boy continually casts his glance around at them all and a muffled whimper escapes his lips. One of the men in black shoves the boy roughly between the shoulders and the boy tumbles onto the mattress, hitting the corner and falling to the ground. The men laugh and the boy crawls back into a corner, crying silently and hugging his legs close to his body. This is your new roommate, Deaf,Ó one of the men says to me with a loud laugh. He is one of the beautiful men with perfect white teeth. What is Deaf?Ó I ask curiously. It means he canÕt hear anything, you idiot plain child,Ó the second man snaps. Enjoy the rest of your time, Plain,Ó the first man says and the two men exchange glances and begin laughing again, as if the statement is a wonderful joke. With this they leave the room and close the door with a sharp thud. When they are gone I get on my knees and crept slowly towards the boy. He flinches away from me. I stop and sit where I am, ready to wait for him to allow me closer. He is actually an attractive boy. If he werenÕt Deaf then he would be one of the Extraordinaries. His face is shapely and narrow, with bright blue eyes that slant slightly and soft black hair. He is well built, lean but powerful, and his skin is an even and burnished light copper color. He is at least my age, if not younger, and a little smaller than me. Curious, I try to inch closer but the boy shifts away and croaks in a very nasal voice, Ghost.Ó I shake my head firmly, wondering what a ghost is, and then extend my hand towards him. The boy watches it tentatively and after a long moment he reaches forward and touches it carefully. He seems surprised at it and slowly clasps my hand with his. I crawl closer and sit next to the boy on the floor. Suddenly the boy leans sideways, wrapping his arms around me, and cries into my shoulder. I hold him until he quiets and pulls away, wiping at his eyes. Thank you,Ó he says in the same nasal voice that continually changes pitch. Are you from the outside?Ó I ask excitedly but DeafÕs eyes turn sad and he shakes his head. I not hear,Ó he says, pointing to his ear for emphasis. I sigh as I remember the man in black saying this and slump back against the wall. I scared,Ó Deaf confesses as tears come again to his eyes. With a whimper he huddles against my side again and I put my arms around him. The door opens and two men dressed all in red enter. They cast one look at Deaf and I and immediately begin to laugh. Well what have we here?Ó one of the men asks his companion. Looks like the new boy has made a friend,Ó the second answers with a shake of his head. What a short-lived friendship.Ó Plain, come with us,Ó the first man says harshly, gesturing at me. I try to rise but Deaf is clinging so tightly to me that I canÕt move. No, no go,Ó Deaf pleads with tears still on his face. One of the men in red comes and yanks DeafÕs hands from my arms, making Deaf yelp in pain. I follow the men in red to the door, but in the frame I turn to wave at Deaf. He waves back faintly and then the men in red jerk me out of the room and shut the door. I walk silently between the two men as they travel quickly through a series of hallways. I recognize a few of the other occupants I pass. The pretty girl with slanting eyes the men call The Chink, the older man who stands no taller than me that they call Dwarf, the boy with scars on his face that they call Ugly, the sightless old woman named Blind, and the man who talks to people only he can see who everyone calls Crazy. Every one of them smiles at me faintly as I pass, except for Blind who continues to stare at the far wall blankly. I reply with a weak smile, but I canÕt help but be filled with fear. As I walk passed Crazy begins mumbling to the empty space beside him. Poor thing, sheÕs headed off with them red fellows. I think this is the last time weÕll see that kid.Ó The men in red turn a corner and I hurry to keep pace. We enter a new hallway that I have never been down and an oppressive silence weighs down on me, making my fear double. At the end of the hallway stands a simple door, solidly white just like every wall and door in the building, with silver door handles. The two men lead me directly to this door and when we approach it they push it open and usher me in. Inside is a circular room filled with several other people of various ages, each of them looking as plain as I, huddling together in the center of the room. The door closes behind me and I scurry over to the group, pressing myself against an older boy who put his arm around my shoulder. Set in one wall is a large glass window and through it I can see several men standing inside, all of them dressed in red clothing. One of the men that brought me in walks to the man in the very center of the row and talks to him. The man in the center nods and turns to look at us through the glass. You are all here because the day has come that we will rid this place of all of you Plains that are fouling up our perfect planet,Ó the man says in a loud voice. In a few moments we will be done with you and our world will be that much closer to being purified.Ó The man toggles a switch on the table in front of him and then he and the other men in red all sit in chairs as if to watch a show. The boy with his arm around me pulls me closer as if to protect me. My eyes scan the row of men in red clothes and they suddenly settle on one of the men that had escorted me here. Something in my mind makes it impossible to take my gaze from him. The man looks at me and for a moment our eyes connect. Good-bye, my daughter,Ó the man mouths silently. A sense of surprise and dread washes over me and I tear my gaze away from the father who brought me to this fatal end. Tears in my eyes, I hug the boy with his arm around me and bury my face in his shirt. A faint hissing from below reaches my ears and suddenly a strange smell burns the inside of my nose. Screams begin to fill the room as everyone breathes in the foul odor. My eyes water in pain as the air burns my throat and lungs, making it nearly impossible to breathe. The boy drops to his knees and pulls me closer to him as he gasps for breath. I canÕt help it; I begin to scream in agony. I feel as if IÕm drowning. Every time I try to draw breath it burns its way into my chest and I choke before the air can reach my lungs. The boyÕs grip slackens and he falls away from me. His eyes are bloodshot red and faint trails of blood flow from his mouth. The boy slumps to the ground where he begins twitching among the dozens of other people writhing on the floor. Screaming becomes too painful on my throat, forcing me into silence. I can feel the blood, sticky in my throat and dripping from my mouth and nose. My eyes burn so bad that I canÕt even blink to restore their water. Slowly I collapse next to the boy, who has finally stilled. As spasms begin to take my body I reach out and grab the still warm hand of the boy. The boy who had protected me even though I was not perfect; the boy who had guarded me without judgement; the boy who had consoled me when my own father had led me to my death. My thinking is slowly becoming fuzzy and I canÕt seem to make sense of anything besides the pain that sings through every inch of my skeletal body. The hand around mine is warm and comforting. I can no longer breath through the thick blood that pours out onto the ground around me. Blackness has taken my eyes and the only things I can make sense of are the pain and the hand. Sounds are dying in my ears until I can hear nothing but the slowly fading beat of my heart. The darkness spreads over my mind, threatening to take me. I give the hand one last squeeze of thanks and allow the darkness to wash me away. A pale white light appears in front of me, dazzling my eyes after the shadows. I feel a faint tugging on my hand and realize that it is clasped inside of another personÕs hand. My eyes slowly adjust to the light and I can force them open. I am standing on the edge of a field of rolling white among a bustling crowd of people looking as baffled as I am. Far ahead a pair of giant golden gates stands open and the people around me are slowly headed towards them. I look to my side and see the boy is holding my hand in his and looking ecstatic. Where are we?Ó I ask. Free,Ó the boy answers in a vague voice, still awed at the spectacular sight before us. Thank you, for protecting me,Ó I say quietly. The boy looks down at me and smiles. He scoops me up in his arms and lifts me onto his hip, where he carries me effortlessly. Thank you for staying with me,Ó the boy says in return. He kisses my forehead gently and then begins walking towards the golden gates. As we move with the crowd I see many of the plain faces that had surrounded me in that circular room, but the light from the gates makes them all seem so beautiful. The boyÕs face is also lit brightly and he looks even more beautiful than the men in red back at the white building. I distractedly wonder if the light has finally made me beautiful too, but I am too shy to ask. When we reach the gate I grip the boyÕs shirt in sudden fear. The boy stops and looks at me curiously. Are we allowed to go in there?Ó I ask in worry. Am I too plain?Ó A man standing beside the gateÕs entrance answers kindly, No, dear Rebecca, you are beautiful. None are too plain to enter this place.Ó Rebecca, is that my name?Ó I ask excitedly. The man nods. ItÕs beautiful.Ó I turn to the boy holding me. What is your name?Ó The boy glances at the man near the gate, who answers, Anthony.Ó ThatÕs beautiful, too,Ó I gasp. The man laughs. What is your name then?Ó I go by many names, but you can call me Father,Ó the man answers. Thank you, Father,Ó I say solemnly. I have never known a man as Father before. Joy fills me as I think about this kind man being my father. What do you think, Rebecca, should we go in?Ó Anthony asks me. I gaze forward into the white beyond, but this white seems so different than any white I have seen. Instead of oppressive and plain, this white seems warm and welcoming. A feeling of peace creeps over me and I turn to Anthony and nod. Will you come with us?Ó I ask Father. I cannot come now, I must see that my other children enter safely, but do not worry, I will join you soon enough,Ó Father promised. Go now, my children, and enjoy your freedom.Ó Anthony steps forward through the gateway. As he walks I look at him thoughtfully. You know Anthony, if heÕs your father, too, that makes you my brother.Ó Anthony laughs and kisses my forehead once more. And you are my beautiful sister, Rebecca,Ó Anthony says in reply. With this Anthony steps forward, through the beautiful golden gateway and into peace. Into freedom. Into happiness. Into perfection.
September 1, 2007