It’s always been the same.
Same town, same people. Same sky, same ground. Same everything.
It’s this way because of The Rulebook. The Rulebook prohibits change. Change is “a causer of problems and agony.” No one crosses The Rulebook. If you try, you die. It’s happened before.
I wish that there was change. Everything would be so much more interesting.
But that’s impossible. I’ve been stuck here for 14 years and I will be forever.
And that, like everything else, will never change.
I awake to the smell of eggs and potatoes, just like every other morning. I sit up, and run my fingers through my jet black hair. I look around the familiar room. The sun shines through a small window above the bed. I smile as the beam hits my face. I wiggle my toes against the carpeted floor and begin dressing into my school clothes. I pick up my nightgown from the floor and place it in a small wicker basket next to my bed.
“Maggie!” A voice calls from the kitchen. My father. “Breakfast!”
I quickly shove on my black shoes and migrate to the kitchen. My mother comes up behind my father, who is standing at the stove, and gives him a peck on the cheek. He turns to the cabinet and grabs a clean plate. I crinkle my nose at the kiss as my father hands me a plate full of food with a fork.
“Maggie, Your tie is crooked.” My mother scolds. She walks over and fixes the error. “Can’t have anything less than perfection, can we?” She gives me a tight smile. “Finish your breakfast.” Mother grabs a small brown paper sack from behind her and hands it to me. “Lunch.”
I don’t have to look to know it’s a peanut butter jelly sandwich. It’s always a peanut butter jelly sandwich. I smile, shovel the last bite of eggs into my mouth and go to the bathroom to brush my teeth. I brush for 2.5 minutes. That’s what it orders in The Rulebook. “One must brush his/her teeth for 2.5 minutes in order to maintain cleanliness.” I wash my toothpaste and saliva down the drain and wipe my mouth on a cloth we keep next to the sink. Today will be better.
I grab my book bag, filled with school supplies, and yell a goodbye to mother and father as I walk out the front door. My walk to school is short, around a mile. All around me kids are walking out of their identical houses with their identical school clothes and their identical book bags. We walk in multiple straight lines into Goldstein Academy.
First period is English. It’s basically the same as every other day, except today we learn about the passive voice. Second period is arithmetic. It’s boring and useless, as usual. Third period is science and its different today than all the other days.
We were learning about atoms when a man in a black suit opened the door and entered the classroom. He looks down a small mechanism resting on his wrist. “I need,” he glances at the mechanism again. “Nathan Waters.” His voice is deep and it resonates across the small classroom.
“I’m Nathan.” A small, skinny boy stands up, his knees shaking.
“Very well.” He pauses. “Mr. Aussprung, a factory worker, has died. You will take his place.” The man grimaces, as if the thought of this makes him annoyed. I see almost a flicker of regret flash across his face. He touches his earpiece. “Waters has been obtained.” He then beckons to Nathan. “Come.”
I watch as Nathan follows the sturdy man out the door. As sad as it is, this will eventually happen to all of us. Like Nathan, we will be taken from the school once we are needed. We have no control of where we end up or who we end up with. Whatever job is chosen for us will be our job for the rest of our lives.
The day carries on, but it drags. We learn the same topics as we did the day before. Eventually school lets out and the kids walk back in their identical lines to their identical houses.
Dinner is brief. We have ravioli, just like every other night. Mother and father are both silent. They both work in factories and they tell me that this is the only peace and quiet they get all day. They savor it.
I get up, my plate half empty. “Goodnight.” I say and they both smile up at me and say goodnight back. I put my dirty dishes in a brown wicker basket. They instantly disappear. They will show up clean tomorrow in the cabinet. I brush my teeth and climb into my nightgown, laid out on my bed, clean and warm. I smile to myself once I’m in bed. One day gone means one day closer to something new.
I must have dozed off at some point because I awake to a quiet house. My room is pitch-black. I begin to wonder what woke me up when I hear a loud thump. It seems to be coming from outside. I peer outside my window but I don’t see anything except the side of my neighbor’s house, bathed in moonlight.
THUMP. I hear the noise again. I slip out of my bedroom and into the kitchen. THUMP. Into the living room. THUMP. At the front door. THUMP. I open the front door and am almost blinded by a bright blue light. A blue orb hangs above the concrete in front of my house. I look around but no one else seems to be woken by the noise. THUMP. The blue orb shakes. I reach my finger tips and press them against the orb.
Everything goes black.
The sun filters through the window creating a spot on the carpet. I wake to the smell of something new and foreign.
I dress in my school clothes hesitantly. Last night was crazy. It must’ve been a dream. Dreams are rare, but they happen. I slowly put on each shoe. Left, then right, like it says in The Rulebook. I walk to the kitchen. On the counter lies a plate with eggs and what seems to be a brown, greasy strip. My father is standing behind the counter and is pouring a white liquid from a large container into a cup. The container looks like what we carry our water in. I believe it’s called a gallon.
“What is this?’ I ask, gesturing to the strip.
My father notices me and he breaks into a wild grin “Happy Birthday honey! I made your favorite, bacon and eggs!”
I have so many questions. What’s a birthday? Where’s mom? What’s bacon? Won’t we get into trouble? One tumbles out. “What about The Rulebook?”
He looks at me questioningly, sliding the white liquid over to me. “What’s a rulebook?”
I trudge to school alone, my head swimming with thoughts. I decide this isn’t real. This is an alternate reality in which everything is different. This is Other Maggie’s life. Other Maggie, Other Maggie, Other Maggie. I want to repeat this until I feel okay, but I never do.
School is even weirder. Other Maggie has a lot of friends and everyone has apparently ditched the whole “walking to school in a straight line” objective. Every class is different and the school walls are littered with colorful posters advertising events on the campus.
When I get home, the table is empty and the house is quiet except for whispers coming from mother and father’s bedroom. The door is ajar. I peer in.
“How long do you think we can keep her here?” My mother’s voice speaks softly.
“I’m not sure. She seems to really like it here, school especially. The creators told me. I think months, maybe even years.” My father.
“Wow, that’s the longest we’ve had anyone under simulation.” My mother, again.
“I kno-“ The door creaks and the voices stop. I hear footsteps walking over to the door. I realize that they are about to open it and I run to my bedroom and slam the door. I lean against the door, my breathing fast. A thought pops up in my head.
I have to get out of here.
The next morning I wake up filled with determination. I’m getting out of here whether they like it or not. School is a blur. I can’t pay attention to anything. All I think is the fact that this isn’t real. This is fake.
Once I arrive home, I’m still unsure of how I’m going to leave this “simulation”. I skip dinner, much to my parents worry. The truth is I don’t feel like eating another unknown food. As much as I hate to admit, I miss home. I miss the routine and the safety. I miss mother and father. I don’t even know where I am and although it looks exactly like home, it’s nowhere near close.
I crawl into bed, full of hunger and regret. Hunger, not for food, but for what used to be. Regret for ever wishing life was different. Reality is, I’m stuck here, until I can escape.
Oh no. I’m not hearing this. This can’t be happening again. I drag myself out of bed and follow the noise to outside, just like last time.
This time, it’s different.
The blue light glitches. It flashes on and off, creating the illusion that it’s not there, then it is.
I ignore it. “What do you want from me?” I yell into the dark night. “What do you want to take? I have nothing left! You’ve taken it all!”
There is silence.
“Answer me!” my voice falters on the last part. I realize now, this world is a like a mouse trap. They, The Creators, teased me with possibilities and then they snapped the trap shut when I touched the blue orb. The blue orb was the bait, and I am the mouse.
The blue orb flickers again. Then the night sky flickers. I blink. The sky flashes on and off.
This is the way out.
“What? Are you too weak?” I call out.
The sky flashes on and off. When it’s not the sky, it’s white and vice versa.
“You just too afraid?”
“Of a little girl?”
The sky flashes on and off at an alarming speed. I laugh with relish. They can’t control it. Not anymore.
“You failed! Again!” I yell. “You can’t have me!”
The sky flashes too fast. Sound courses through the simulation. An electrical fuse blowing. A loud thump.
Then, everything is silent and I fade into the darkness.
I wake with cool air blowing on my face. I blink a couple times and I realize my face is covered with sweat. I’m lying in a soft bed, pillows holding my head up.
“She’s awake.” A women’s voice rises above the whirring of an electric fan. She walks in my line of sight and I see that it’s my mother. The real one. I’m about to speak but I am interrupted.
“Shh,” she says “Don’t talk. You have a fever.”
I don’t even ask what that is. I reach up and hug her. The effort hurts my back and I sit back after a second or two.
My father comes up and I hug him as well. I manage to croak out “What happened?”
They then proceed to tell me about simulation. When you come of age, 15, you must go through a simulation to see how you would react to “The Real World”. If you pass, you go on to live there. If you don’t, you stay here. People have stayed in the simulation for a long time and have still not passed. It depends on how much you like it there. The Creators make the simulations and the place we live in. They control everything, from the water we drink to the food we eat.
“Needless to say, you would’ve passed, but something happened.” Mother glances at father. “Something you did, well, it broke The Creators. Killed them all. You had more control in your simulation than you thought you did.”
“I killed them?!” I ask, alarmed.
“It’s a good thing.” Father smiles at me. “Don’t you understand?”
I shake my head.
“We’re finally free.”
I blink, tears filling my eyes.
Mother leans down. “You’re home, Maggie.”
I realize that she’s right. I’m home.