“Garrett! Wake up!” I hear coming from the kitchen. I roll over and check my alarm clock; it was 6:49, one minute before my alarm was about to go off. I groan, why couldn’t my mom have just waited one more minute. Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep Beep. I swing my legs out of bed and feel the cold floor against warm feet. I groggily rub my eyes as I take a step forward. The uneven floorboards disorient me so early in the morning, and I lose my balance. As I start to tip over, I push my hand against the wall, crumbling some of the plaster. I look through my broken window next to my door and see the rocky silhouette of tops of trees and blinking colorful city lights. The sun was just about to rise, so I stumbled in the dark almost walking into the dresser. I pulled out the shirt in top drawer and put it on, I did the same with my underwear and pants, not caring what I put on because it was friday. I looked in the mirror on the back of my door and noticed the white paint crawling to the bottom like an inchworm on a tree. I grabbed the cold bronze doorknob and twisted it. It squeaked, and I grunted under my breath because of how early it was.
“Good morning honey,” my mom said in a sing-song voice as I came to the bottom of the stairs. Her hair was frazzled and puffy and couldn’t keep itself down.
“Morning,” I said as I grabbed a bowl out of the cupboard. When I reached for the knob, it fell off and shattered all over the already splinter-filled floor.
“Your father was supposed to fix that,” she said.
“Oh yeah, like he’s supposed to fix my shower and the heating,” I said sarcastically with a slightly raised voice.
“Don’t you dare talk to me like that you know your father works extra hours to make sure we can even live here!” She yelled.
“Oh yeah, and it looks like you’re helping a lot with that, and your job is what?” I said, “You stay home and do nothing all day!”
I grabbed the bottom of the cupboard, ignoring the glass. I took a bowl from the shelf and the box of cereal next to it. The bowl was chipped almost all along the rim and had many cracks in it. I slammed the cupboard door shut, hitting it so hard it falls off the hinges. I didn’t even care anymore, I tossed my bowl on the table. I looked up and saw my mom’s eyes filling with tears.
“I’m sorry,” I mumbled.
“Did you sleep well?” my mom asked trying to make conversation and ignoring what I had just said.
I still felt bad, so I was muttered the words “Slept fine.”
I took the milk out of the fridge and placed it alongside the bowl.
“I got you something,” my mom said sounding sad. I looked up at her and blinked.
“Really? How?” I said forgetting about what had happened only a few minutes before.
The room was silent, and my mom chose not to answer me.
“I’m sorry, I know you and dad are trying hard. I just don’t like living like we are the “bottom of the barrel’” I put my fingers in the air, signaling air quotes.
”It’s okay, neither do I, but we have to work hard to stay here” she replied looking down at her fingers and picking at them.
I poured the cereal into the bowl and shoveled the bland mixture into my awaiting mouth. The milk wasn’t cold and the cereal stale, but I chose not to complain. I checked the clock, noticing the wall it was on. The vertical striped wallpaper was stained with unknown substances. The couch below the clock was filled with dust and other treasures that were left in people’s pockets and somehow found their way down. The rug lay shifted and laid on the unpainted, unsealed floorboards. The rug was brown dirty and had many unexplained tears in it. I checked the time, 7:13.
“I have to go, the bus will be here in one minute,” I said, leaving the bowl on the table and running away like it was trying to kidnap me.
“Oh wait! I have your present!” my mom called out as I reached the front of the house. I forced my foot into my hand-me-down, worn out sneakers.
“I’ll get it when I get back” I called out rushing out the door. I hopped down the cement steps and stood by the curb right as the yellow, pristine bus pulled up. Its yellow outline stands out in the surrounding area of dirtied cars, houses and trash blowing through the streets.
The bus ride to school is often bumpy and uncomfortable. The seats are covered with gum, and the floor is sticky. I found my place near the back of the bus. They turned their heads as I walked down the skinny aisle, maneuvering through the outstretched legs of classmates. As the bus started away, I looked out the window at the houses, slowly becoming a blur as the bus increased speed.
After the bus rolled up to the school and cleared, I jumped off and walked towards the front of the school. It was a new school, built only a few years ago. The mortar between the bricks was still a light grey, and the tile still unscathed, in most places. I ventured into the temporary prison and waited until I heard the bell.
I walked by the group of kids who lived on the nice side of town. The white picket fences and the perfectly mowed lawns angered me, my envy turned to resentment against these kids. I had only visited the nice side of town once before the tunnel was built. It separated the town, and everyone knew how dangerous it was.
As class started, the seconds twisted and twirled their way into minutes and those into hours until it was the end of school. After the bell went off for the end of school, I was still packing up. Everyone shuffled to the door and slowly emptied out. As I began to walk out of the classroom, my teacher grabbed my upper arm. Squeezing hard and talking through his teeth, he said “How was your mom’s present?”
I froze and looked at him in the eye. Scared to reply. He showed me a terrifying toothy smile, and I pulled myself away from him and backed away from his increasing aura of eeriness. Striding down the hallway, it seemed like everyone was staring at me. I began to panic that I was being watched. Looking into the teachers and students eyes, they seemed empty and dull. Just as I exited the school, the bright yellow bus pulled away. My heart was beating hard, it felt like it was a drum slamming against my ribs. I felt my palms and noticed I had been sweating. I placed them on my knees and bent over to catch my breath.
After walking home for an unknown amount of time, I knew I was far from school. My whole back began to fill with a strange sensation. As if someone lightly dragged their fingernails down my back. I feel my heartbeat, and I feel like I had to throw up. I finally built up enough courage to turn around and saw a man walking behind me. He was wearing a hoodie, and I couldn’t see his face. I turned my head back around and continued minding my business. But again, I felt the same feeling. I turned my head back around assuming I had just been overthinking it. When I turned around the man was running at me full speed. He was getting closer and closer to me as he ran and I could see the dark outlines of his face. I began to run and as soon as I turned my head forward, another man wrapped his arms around me. I tried to pull myself free, but he was strong. I began kicking my feet violently to escape his grasp. The smell of chloroform filling my nose. The image of the lonely street I was on began to crumble away to blackness like it was crushed.
A thick black surrounded me, something I had never seen before. I awoke in total blackness, it felt like a deep, vast, endless hole of screams and torment. The blackness began to shake and rumble. The blackness started to become less intense, and my vision started to return. Patches of light began to form, and a throbbing headache showed itself in my head.
When I open my eyes to, I saw a man staring at me. As I begin to scream I realize I was being gagged with a what tastes like an oil-covered rag. My hands and arms are bound together with rope. I try to free myself but with no prevail. It takes me a few seconds to realize we are in a moving van. I look to my left, and there was a row of empty seats. The grey upholstery was torn and slashed. To my right, was a long window, almost immediately, I knew where I was, we had only driven away a few seconds ago, and we were in the middle of the ‘bad’ part of town. I hated using that word to describe where I grew up.
The driver and the man soon started to communicate in a language that was foreign to me. They seemed like they were arguing about what to do with me, by their inflections and how the man in front of me was pointing. As I looked out the window again, I knew where we were headed. The nice part of town. That meant we would have to travel through the tunnel.
The government put a tunnel in all major, overpopulated cities. It was to improve the population and allow an equal opportunity, but everyone knew no one from the nice place ever died in this tunnel. We have always been told to stay away from the tunnel unless you have money. It was drilled into our brains by teachers, parents and the hundreds of posters reading, “Take your chance!” Or “You’ll come out better on the other side!”
I began to panic thinking of what I could do. As soon as a logical idea was formed in my head, it was replaced by something nonsensical. My mind raced through everything I had read about how to prevent things like this, but nothing would come to mind. I began to flail my body and thrust my torso up and down. The man looked at me and started yelling in a different language. I didn’t care. He then became enraged that I didn’t stop and I could feel the anger building up inside of him. He raised his right hand in the air, and I knew what was going to happen before he did it. I took a look at his palm and saw the thick lines in his hands. They were deep and dark in the middle and began to dissipate near the ends. As soon as I looked at his hand, it was swinging down onto my face.
A burning pain filled my left cheek and tears began to form in my eyes. I stopped flailing, and the man stopped screaming. I looked out the window again and noticed we were just about to go into the tunnel. It was full of emptiness, and people knew to avoid it unless they wanted to die. The overpopulation has led to almost 1,000 people dying per year. I didn’t want to be one of them.
As we entered the tunnel, a strange silence was present. It was thick and dense and made it hard to breathe. With eyes wide, I began to cry. My eyes stung as I tried to signal for them to stop. My muffled screams were coming in like unclear radio stations. A car zoomed by us, trying to get out of the tunnel as fast as it could. It was a family of four. Everyone in the vehicle had an anxious look on their face. I soon began to scream louder to see if it would catch their attention. As one of the kids turned their heads, their car was rapidly lifted into the air. The mechanical body slamming against the smoothly curved top of the tunnel. Many sounds were heard, the sounds of the glass windows shattering, the metal being bent and broken, and the screams of the family. Their faces full of terror. The car fell back down onto the road. As it slid, sparks flew from all sides hitting our van and the arching tunnel walls. It skidded to a stop. We attempted to avoid the car full of what once was a happy family. As we sped away from the car behind us, a blinding white light filled the van. I closed my eyes because it pained me to keep them open. A fireball from the newly exploded car, filled the tunnel and was prepared to set ablaze whatever was in its path. The driver increased speed. As we neared the end of the tunnel, the car was still ablaze. We entered the nice part of town with scratches and dents along the side of a white van. The van pulled up to a curb of a beautiful modern house. The perfect landscaping and home-keeping contrasted with our damaged, disfigured van.
The two men began to argue again. They seemed to be confused at how the car had crashed with nothing to cause it. They had no clue how lucky we were. As they continued to yell, one of the men looked at me, and noticed I had stopped screaming. Afraid the police would come soon, they opened the sliding van door, grabbed my arm and threw me on the curb. One of the men utters my mother’s name with a tone of annoyance. Since my hands and feet were still bound, I had no way to move. I was dropped on the sidewalk where I lay. One of the men hopped out of the van, and kicked my stomach. I jolted on the ground, my body slightly convulsing. After pulling himself onto on the metal rim of the van, they slammed their door closed and drove away leaving me with nothing but a sense of shame.
My body was bruised and aching. I unsuccessfully attempted to free myself. Luckily for me, my screams had alerted a pair of residents. They ran over to me, with their sweaters and khaki pants. Helping me out of my restraints, they asked what had happened. They were a couple, mid to late 40s, probably with a kid that goes to my school. After the rag was removed from my mouth, I explained how two men had kidnaped me. I left out the part about the family dying because it wasn’t important to me at this point.
Just as I was found, the police came. They were very apprehensive going through the tunnel, ignoring the now non-existent family. Their car was destroyed like a crumpled piece of paper, folds and unnatural bends everywhere. The police and ambulance came through the tunnel, followed by a fire truck. The men asked me many questions and helped me into the police car, my face still stinging from the slap. I laid myself down on all 3 seats in the back.
As we pulled away from the ‘nice place,’ I realized how I was never going to come back. It was nothing how I remembered. The white picket fences were cheap and plastic. The perfectly mowed lawns were dying and brown. The trees were flimsy and snapped.
To get back home, we had to travel through the tunnel. At this point, I didn’t even know where I was, but the darkness reassured me of my location. The hum of the car motor calmed me, and my eyes started to drift close. I was glad all my nightmarish hellscape of a day was over.
Right before my heavy eyelids were about to close, a feeling of weightlessness attacked me with knives and swords. The car was being lifted into the air by an unidentifiable force. Objects were floating in the police car; wires, handcuffs, a radio and my mom’s present. It appeared next to me, as if it was there the whole time.
As we lifted gracefully into the air, my ears filled with the screams of everyone else in the car. My mind was still foggy with what was happening, and my chest felt an unimaginable pressure. The car hit something hard and forcefully. The top of the roof began flattening, and as I lay on the back seats of the car, I knew what was happening. Many loud cracks could be heard as skulls were crushed, and broken. Skin was ripped apart and began to singe in the front of the car.
The car lifted further into the ceiling of the tunnel until the roof was a foot away from my face. As I embraced for impact, I looked over on the ground. My mom’s present for me, lay open for all to see. A knife sat in it, shiny, unused and ready.