Where

February 13, 2018
By Taylin, North Ogden, Utah
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Taylin, North Ogden, Utah
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Author's note:

This piece was inspired by a video I watched about Plato's allegory of the cave. I thought I could make a futuristic retelling of the story, and along came Where. Many people, my teachers included, have told me I'm a good writer. My English teacher showed me Teen Ink, and I thought I'd give it a shot.

I yelped as the fire came too close for comfort. This dragon clearly hated visitors.
“Lexi are you okay?” I heard someone yell over the dragon’s bellows. I turned to see a brown haired boy in a black and blue racing suit staring at me with worry in his eyes.
“I’m fine Justin,” I called back to him as I fired another round of arrows at the large winged beast. “Thankfully my hair is unscathed; I mean I just got it re-colored for heaven’s sake!” I brushed away my newly silvered ponytail as the dragon screeched out in pain.
“Could you stop worrying about your hair for two seconds?” the request came from my right, a blonde girl could be seen fighting to stay on a wing of the monster. “We’re kind of in the middle of a battle!”
“Sorry Camille,” Justin and I replied in unison. Suddenly I was forced onto the ground by a massive claw pinning me down. The shock made me drop my bow, and I could hardly breathe with the dragon pushing hard on my back.
“A little help?” I wheezed, but my plea was drowned out by the cry of the monster holding me captive. I could only watch as my collogues were thrown down repeatedly.
No! I thought my mind racing. We’ve worked so hard to get here and now we’re… losing. Thoughts swam in and out of my mind as I was forced to spectate the struggle of my friends. We can’t die. Not now! Not when we’re so close to our goal! My thinking was desperate; if we lost we would never have this chance again for years.
It was then that I suddenly caught hold of an idea. My lack of oxygen would make it even more difficult, but it was worth a shot.
I raised my arm, lifting it up and behind my head. Feeling around for what I wanted, I could sense something fuzzy. I grabbed it and pulled it into my field of vision. Just what I needed; an arrow. I got a better grip on the weapon before forcing my arm back up and lodging the arrow into the dragon’s hand.
There was a loud roar, as if the ancient beast were a bass opera singer warming up while being strangled. The pressure was lifted off my back and I was finally able to take a deep, welcoming gasp of air. I turned back to see the lizard-like animal scream toward the sky before freezing and silencing.
I layed there in disbelief as the creature suddenly burst into ashes that rained down gently. We had done it. We had killed the dragon. Then I heard Justin start cheering. Pretty soon, Camille and I joined in as well.
“We did it!” Camille exclaimed. “We beat the dragon! That was so cool!”
“Cool? That was awesome!” Justin shouted.
“Yeah!” I chimed in, “I mean for a minute there I thought we were going to die. But we didn’t! We won the fight!”
We all sat there for a while, talking and laughing as we reenacted parts of the scene. When we finally calmed down, we all sighed.
“I can’t believe it. That was amazing.” Justin said as he looked over at the now setting sun. The orange and red hues bled across the sky. We all watched as the sun sank over the horizon into the realms beyond.
For that moment, everything was perfect. In that moment, nothing was wrong. But then, that moment passed, and everything changed forever.
I sighed as I looked back at my two best friends. The ones who had been there for me my whole life. I smiled as I remembered all the adventures we’d been on.
“Um, Lexi?” Camille asked as she looked at me with a peculiar expression.
“What?” I answered as I c***ed my head, confused. Justin gasped from beside me.
“Oh my gosh, Lexi are you okay?” He inquired, worried.
“I’m fine. What are you two talking about?” I questioned. They sat there speechless for a few moments, before Camille scrambled to pull out a palm sized glass shard that we used as a mirror. She gave it to me, and I lifted it up, still confused about what they were gawking at.
One glance was enough to make me gasp as I dropped the makeshift mirror. I breathed heavily and knelt down to pick up the glass again.
My reflection was like nothing I’d ever seen before. I had a large gash across my face. But instead of blood, there were numbers and twitches of strange colors oozing out. I reached up and touched the wound, which made the numbers and colors spaz out, switching back and forth extremely quickly.
Scared, I pulled my hand back. Only to reveal that it had turned into colors and numbers, and that my gash had grown. I started breathing quicker as the numbers and colors appeared in my sight.
“What is happening to me?!” I cried out as I looked around frantically, searching for something that made sense.
“Lexi!” Both my friends shouted. Only, their voices were distorted and strange. The colors and numbers started to spread, clouding my vision. I tried so desperately to call out, but my voice was gone. All the sounds were replaced with a fuzzy noise along with a constant high pitched squeal.
I wanted it all to go away. I wanted it to end. There was nothing pleasant anymore. Everything was either numb or filled with pain. I wanted it to be calm again. I didn’t want this.
That’s when everything stopped. All I could see was black. All I could hear was silence. All I could feel was cold. Everything just stopped.
Then I opened my eyes.

I was staring up into the sky. There were stars, the moon, and darkness. As I breathed, puffs of what looked like smoke rose up into the night. Why am I breathing smoke? I thought as I started looking around.
It looked like any old land. Hardly any trees, grass overgrown basically everywhere. The only things that weren’t normal were the people. There were people on the ground, asleep.
These people were wearing odd clothing. Long sleeve shirts and blueish pants. They all had the same four colors of hair, only slightly different in shade. They all had either blonde, brown, black, or grey hair. Their skin was either dark, light, or somewhere in between. I couldn’t see any of their faces because there were black boxes strapped to them.
Looking down closer to me, I found that I was wearing the same clothes as everyone else. I was then suddenly aware of a new sensation. I felt the cloth pressing against my skin, closing in around me. I had never felt claustrophobic before, but I did now. As I kept my face down, my hair fell like a curtain around it. I gasped to see that it was black instead of silver.
I took a section of the jet black strands in my fingers. My hair felt course and tangled, like it hadn’t been brushed before. I started sliding the hair through my fingers, enjoying the feeling of the little strings of hair straightening out in my hands.
“Wow,” I practically breathed as I smiled for the first time since I had experienced this strange world.
“It’s always interesting to see how they react when they first wake up,” a man’s voice said from behind me. I jumped as I turned around to see a man with blonde hair, and a short beard. His clothes were different than everyone else’s. He wore a red long sleeve shirt with the sleeves rolled halfway up, along with a complimenting black vest and pants. I was speechless as he smiled at me and giggled a little.
“Wh-who are you?” I asked when I had finally found my voice.
“I’m so sorry if I startled you,” he told me. “My name is Robert.” As he said this, he held out his hand. I only stuttered. Completely confused about what I was supposed to do. Robert only laughed again.
“Sorry. I forgot that you’re new.” He apologized as he pulled his hand back. “So, what’s your name?”
“Lexi. Uh, can you tell me what is going on and, where I am?”
“Well Lexi, you are in what we call ‘the physical world’. Everything that you’re used to, and what you know as real, we call that ‘the virtual world’. Those headsets you see everyone wearing are what cause the virtual world to look so real.”
“Wait, but I could feel the dragon on me. It nearly made me suffocate!”
“Everything that you feel in the virtual world is only caused by your mind.”
I paused for a moment, taking this all in. It wasn’t long before my mind was filled with questions. I wanted to understand this physical world.
“Why are you wearing different clothes? And, how many people live here? What is life like in the physical world?”
Robert looked at me like I was a child asking all the simplest questions. Which, in his mind at least, I was.
“There’s a seamstress back in town that makes clothes. That’s where I got these.” Robert explained. “There are thousands of people that live consciously in the physical world. There are jobs that you are given, and that’s what you do all day.”
Pretty soon, I had learned all about the physical world. Some of the cool jobs that there were back in town, how the town worked, how the virtual world worked, and even that the numbers and colors I had seen were glitches in my headset. I knew that the world I grew up in wasn’t real, and that the things I could see in the physical world were.
“So,” Robert announced. “Anything else you want to ask me?”
“Well,” I pondered for a moment, trying to come up with anything else. “Just one thing.” I finally told him. “What now?”
Robert looked puzzled. “What do you mean?” He asked.
“What do I do now? Now that I know about the physical world.”
“Now,” He hesitated a moment, as if what he was about to say was difficult. “Well now you… you have a choice.”
I c***ed my head. “What’s the choice?”
“Your choice is what world you want to be in.” Robert told me. His tone was different. Earlier he was cheerful and happy, now it had dropped and become more serious.
“Where I want to go,” I interpreted.
“Yes. So, what do you choose?”
I sat there for a while, lost in thought. There were pros and cons for both options. Friends and familiarity on one side, and opportunities and learning on the other. After too long, I finally sighed.
“I know what I want.

I looked at my surroundings. They were what I had come to know and love. Only, they didn’t seem as familiar as they should’ve. I saw two people up ahead. It took me a moment, but I’d recognize them anywhere.
“Justin! Camille!” I called out. They both turned at their names and stopped, astonished at seeing me.
“Lexi?” Camille said, barely loud enough for me to hear.
“Lexi!” Justin shouted. They both started running towards me. I just smiled and let them come and squeeze me with their hugs.
“How in the world?” Camille started to say as she got choked up in her own emotions.
“We saw you disappear!” Justin told me.
“How are you back?” Camille pressed on me.
“If I can get a chance to speak then I’ll tell you,” I said, interrupting them both with a voice that was saturated in emotion. They both shut their mouths as tears welled up in their eyes, waiting for a story.
“I didn’t die. I just went to the physical world.”
“The physical world?” Justin quizzed.
“It’s a world just like this one, but it’s real. This is just-“
“What are you talking about Lexi? This is real,” Camille interrupted.
“Well, that’s the thing,” I told them. “You think this is real but it’s not. It’s just coming from a headset strapped to your face.”
“Lexi,” Justin told me comfortingly. “There is nothing attached to anyone’s face. There’s no ‘physical world’. I think you’re just-“
“No!” I corrected him. “There is! I’ve seen it!”
“Look,” he continued. “I don’t know what you saw, but I think you’re just tired. We’re all tired. Camille and I didn’t get any sleep while you were gone. I think you’re just tired and-“
“I’m not tired!” I insisted, cutting him off. “I saw the physical world! I was in it! Robert told me everything! About the town, and the jobs, and everything!”
“Lexi, who is Robert?” Camille questioned.
“He’s the one I met in the physical world.” I informed them. “He told me about their jobs, and their homes, and their community.”
“Look Lexi,” Justin said consolingly. “I don’t want to let you down, but Robert is just someone in your head.”
“No, no he’s not. I can still remember what he looked like! He had blonde hair, and a beard, and a vest with a red shirt.” I persisted.
“Lexi, is it possible that you just dreamed of this Robert guy?” Camille asked me.
“No! I didn’t dream him up! Robert is a real person! I saw him and talked to him! Why don’t you guys believe me?!”
Justin and Camille looked at each other, concerned.
“We do,” Camille began. “It’s just that-“
“No you don’t!” I told them. “You haven’t believed a word I said since I got back!” There was obvious emotion behind these sentences, as I began to tear up.
“No Lexi, don’t cry,” Justin told me. “We didn’t mean it like-“
“Like what?” I interjected. Neither of them said anything. “Like you don’t trust me anymore? Because that’s how it sounded to me.”
They both looked around guiltily as they tried to come up with some excuse to say to me. When they found nothing, they didn’t even try and hide it. Camille just cried while Justin did his best not to make eye contact.
“That’s what I thought.” I scolded them. “I can’t believe I even once called you my friends.” I turned and stormed off. “And don’t even think about following me.”
I led myself to a cave, where I could be alone. There I did the only thing I could do; sit in a corner and cry. As I wailed, my thoughts came to taunt me. Nice job Lexi. You lost yourself both of your only friends in just a few minutes. What a screw up. How can you ever be happy now? You can’t even go back to the physical world.
With as much crying as I did, I was surprised that I didn’t make a river running out of the cave. I looked up for the first time in hours to see the sun setting outside the cave.
“I was wondering when you’d look up,” Even though the voice was familiar, I still jumped. Next to me was a man I’d only seen once before.
“R-Robert?” I asked with a crackly voice.
“In the virtual flesh,” he answered. He gasped quietly when he saw my face. “Ooh. You’ve been crying for a while now, haven’t you?”
I quickly wiped off my face before asking a question of my own. “I thought you lived in the physical world. How are you… here?”
“Well,” He said, glancing around to make sure we were alone. “I still use my headset sometimes to check in on those I’ve met who chose to go back to the virtual world. But no one’s supposed to know that, so let’s keep that one a secret.”
I smiled a little. “Who am I going to tell? You’re the only person from the physical world that I know.”
“That is of course unless you want to go back?” Robert nudged.
“I thought I already spent my chances of ‘going back’.”
“Not unless you want to change your mind now. Just say the word and you’re in the physical world again.”
“What’s the word?”
“Do you want to go home?”
I paused for a moment before putting my head down again.
“I don’t even know where that is anymore.” I told him truthfully.
Robert looked at the sliver of the sun that was left. He pondered a moment, letting the sun sink down, and the world to become dark.
“Home,” He finally told me, “Home is where those you care about are. Where they make you feel loved. Where they make you feel accepted. Home could be anywhere. A school, a tree, a backyard, a battlefield, anywhere.”
“A cave?” I asked, putting out the idea.
Robert laughed a bit, catching my drift. “Yeah,” he said. “Even a cave.”
We sat in silence for a while, as we watch the stars blink from the blue-black sky. Robert sat down next to me, joining me on the ground. After a couple of moments, my gaze drifted away from the stars and over to another target.
“You’re supposed to look at the stars, not me!” Robert joked. We laughed together as the night went on, our joy lighting up the cave.
“I feel like I’m home Robert.” I said quietly.
“We’re home Lexi. We’re home.”



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