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“You’re just leaving me here?!” Rick ran his hands through his messy blond hair. “You have got to be kidding me!” The driver of the van turned around to look at him curled up in the cluttered trunk. “Sorry, kid. You mess with the law, this is what you get.”
She popped open her door, climbed out, and walked around the side of the vehicle. She lifted the trunk door, and instantly Rick was blown away by the heat from outside. How could it be this hot when snow was falling to the ground so fast it made his head hurt? “What is up with this place? Is this where all prisoners go?” The woman grabbed him by the arm and hauled him out into the sweltering blizzard. She handed him a bag and a necklace.
“This is your prisoner chain,” she said, resting the silver chain-link necklace over his shoulders. “This way the townspeople know you’re from the jail. This bag here just has your basic nutrition until you make it into town. Got it?”
Rick nodded and took the bag, his hand trembling with anxiousness. He can’t feel sorry for himself. This is what he deserved, wasn’t it? He broke the law, and now he was getting treated like a criminal for it.
The roar of an engine and his only way back home was gone. Now there was nothing left to do but walk and be confused with this whole new place. Sounds like fun, doesn’t it? Not for the boy who had made the biggest mistake of his life at school last week.
He had a tablet sitting out on the desk in front of him, the bright light illuminating the darkness around him. Ever since the new government took over, things had been a lot stranger at school. Not like they weren’t before. It just seemed more amplified now. A whole new lineup of teachers had been brought in, and now students were required to wear uniforms when they never had to before. The creepiest things though were the new lessons. They were about weird things, and all of them seemed to be centered on the apocalypse.
Rick was the smartest kid in his class and a computer genius, so when he was looking down at that tablet, he wasn’t just playing games or surfing the web. He was hacked into the school’s whole technological network. A page popped up on his screen showing a timeline. It started way back when the school was built in 2001. As he continued to scroll down, he realized the page didn’t stop at the present date, September 17, 2029, but continued far into the future. The very last date was in the 4000’s. It said: To Be Continued.
As Rick scrolled back up, he read through the various dates. It was almost like these people knew the future-
“What are you doing here?!” The boy turned, looked up at the cold face of a policeman, and gasped. The rest was just a blur. The only thing he really remembered after that was his sentence and the car ride to this creepy place. These past weeks, Rick had stopped himself over a thousand times when he was tempted to think about what had happened. He wanted to try and understand how things had got this way, but he was so upset he couldn’t bring himself to it. Now that he was all alone, he was forced to.
After what must have been hours of walking in this strange new environment, Rick could finally see a city that was about a mile ahead of him. As he sped up, he tugged at the chains around his neck, attempting to pull them off. He didn’t need these people knowing he was a criminal. But as he laid his long fingers on them, they glowed blue and wouldn’t come up over his head.
He looked down at the chain as he sprinted towards the city limits. On each link of metal, a word was inscribed in yellow. It read: Those who have committed crime shall be forgiven in time.
Rick gulped, and let the chain fall back onto his chest. The city was literally right in front of him. Old fashioned houses lined the streets, all of them surrounding what must have been the city square. People bustled about all over the place, going to neighbor’s houses, running errands in the little shops. They didn’t seem to notice that it was one hundred thirty degrees and snowing.
As the teenage criminal cautiously walked through town, the stares of townspeople followed him up to the city square. They didn’t look too friendly. In fact, they looked like mean people. Sitting on a bench, he rested, ignoring the not so quiet whispers about him. His eyes drooped, his head lolling forward. If only he could just fall asleep…
“Come with me!” His eyes flashed open to see a girl grabbing him by the hand and pulling him. “Who are you?” He questioned the girl. She took her free hand and showed off her name tag. Rick just shook his head. “Okay, well could you give me a better explanation then that your name’s … Isabel?”
Rick groggily got up from the bench and yawned, shaking the girl’s hand from his wrist. “You gonna take me to jail or something?” he asked. “It’s probably better than this place.” Isabel just gestured for him to follow her. “Come on,” she said. “I’m not taking you to jail.” She led the boy through the city streets and to an old, rundown house. The building was painted an ugly shade of brown, and the crumbling roof seemed to be sagging inward. It looked as though it had been through a war.
Rick followed Isabel through a creaky screen door and down a flight of carpeted stairs. “Could you please tell me where we’re going?” He stepped down into the coolness of the basement. “Oh, it feels so good down here! I needed to get out of that sweltering heat!” The girl smiled at him in the darkness.
“Yeah,” Isabel said as she reached down and closed her hand around a metal latch sticking out from the ground. “No one wants to stay there too long.” She pulled the latch up and revealed to Rick a trapdoor that led down into a torch-lit tunnel.
Rick jumped down into the tunnel. “I see what we’re doing now,” he said. “You’re busting me out of this place, aren’t you?”
Isabel shrugged. “Not exactly. If I knew how to get out of here, I’d probably be long gone by now. I’d be home, where I belong.” She jumped down into the tunnel and began walking along.“I’m just getting you out of that city.”
Rick followed her down the tunnel for a long time without speaking. He was very curious about where he was going, but he made himself refrain from asking questions. After what must’ve been over fifteen minutes of walking in silence, Rick could no longer control himself. “Where are we going?” He could see the tunnel was coming to an end. There was a metal ladder on the wall ahead of them that led straight up to another trap door.
Isabel stopped in her tracks. “Why don’t you take a look?” She pushed Rick forward and into the ladder. “Go on,” she said. “Prisoners first.” Rick looked up cautiously at the trapdoor before climbing the ladder. Using all of his strength, he pushed open the old, wooden door. Yellow light filtered down into the tunnel as Rick peeked his head out the top.
“Wow,” he said, hauling himself out of the passage. He dusted himself off and looked around. Directly in front of him was a massive body of water. He couldn’t decipher whether it was a lake or an ocean, but it looked clean and drinkable. Sun was shining down onto the deep blue waves, and as Rick looked up to the sky, he realized that it wasn’t snowing or nearly as hot as it had been before.
The boy turned around to see a small group of wooden cottages sitting in a large grassy field. Both children and adults were either sitting around the houses or inside of them. A large forest surrounded the tiny village, giving it shade. “Wow,” Rick said again as Isabel emerged from the tunnel. She smiled and breathed in the cool air coming off of the water. After a moment of silent admiration, she and Rick began walking towards the cottages.
“This place is beautiful,” Rick said. Isabel nodded and pulled the boy into one of the first houses. A boy of around fifteen years old, Rick’s age, was standing over the kitchen sink, skinning potatoes. He looked just like Isabel but maybe a bit younger. He had short light-brown hair and dark eyes.
Isabel guided Rick over to the sink and introduced him to the other boy. “This is Seth,” she said. “He’s my brother.” Seth shook hands with Rick before returning to his work. “What’s your name?” he questioned the other boy.
“It’s Rick,” the boy said. “I’m fifteen. How old are you?” Seth looked up at the ceiling for a moment. “Um,” he said. “I think I’m about fifteen.”
Rick looked at him with a goofy expression. “You think? Are you saying you don’t know you’re real age?”
Seth shot a glance at Isabel, who began pushing Rick out of the kitchen and into the living room. She led the boy upstairs and into a large room full of bookshelves. “Take a seat,” she said. Rick slumped into the nearest fluffy chair as Isabel sat in the one across from it. She folded her hands across her lap and began speaking.
“There are some things I should probably explain about this place. First of all, you don’t ask questions about these peoples’ pasts. They’re all prisoners just like you. Nobody needs to know more. Second”-
“Are you a prisoner? What about your brother?” Rick interrupted.
Isabel clenched her fists. “It doesn’t matter. We lived out the end of our sentence years ago. We were punished for stuff our parents did… when they were alive. Do you know how long your sentence is?” Rick looked down at the chain around his neck. “A year.”
“Good,” Isabel said. “That’s not too long. Until then, you’ll need to be on the watch for government guys. As long as that chain’s around your neck, they’re tracking you. We can’t let them find this place. Not if we want to keep it.”
Isabel got up and stretched. “After your sentence is over, you’re free to try and find your way home. Let me just tell you though, if it was easy to get out of here, we’d all be gone. This is one strange place, but it’s good if you know how to survive.” She looked down at Rick for a while before leaving. The boy deserved some time to himself. She exited the room and went downstairs.
As Rick sat and thought about what he would do in this new place and about how sorry he was for committing a crime, he felt a strange sensation on the back of his neck. He reached his hand up to his chain necklace and squeezed it with all his strength. The strong metal was crushed under his fingers. Closing his eyes, he ripped off the necklace.
When he opened his eyes he was laying on his stomach in bed, his dog’s rough tongue licking the back of his neck. He turned over and looked at the calendar beside his bed. Today was July 7th, 2013. Breathing a sigh of relief, he sat up. It had all just been a dream. He wasn’t a prisoner any longer, and he wasn’t stuck in the year 2029. Isabel never existed, and neither did Seth.
It was just a dream.