I stepped out of the apartment, inhaling something very close to oxygen, but slightly cheaper. The steps to the road loomed in front of me, inviting me to pass through to the street, where I could continue on my way to school. Unfortunately, I didn’t want to. I stepped onto the gravel surrounding the path, and made my way around the equivalent of my home.
Around the back of the house, the oxygen dispensers were less plentiful, and while the air was thin, it stank less of chemicals and things artificial. I sat against the wall, feeling the gravel poke against my legs as I stretched them out as far as they could go. The suns weak rays couldn’t penetrate the ground around me, so I was surrounded by shadow. I glanced at my watch, which displayed 5 numbers so significantly insignificant that I had to close my eyes in order to clear my head. 8:03:32. To an average person in my position, it would mean crap, I’m late to school! To me, it set into perspective the inevitable schedule we humans had built around our lives, and the lack of understanding or acceptance we gave to those who wanted to forge their own path. I shuddered, forcing myself to accept the world as it was, and not as I imagined.
I got up slowly, letting my pupils adjust to the sunlight before climbing over the fake wooden fence that guarded the perimeter of the yard. Behind it was a small space between two rows of houses. I began to walk, reflecting on my childhood of breathing real oxygen, and being able to display random behavior without being shunned from society. The gravel beneath my feet changed color, to something more brown. I stopped, and crouched down, picking up some of the brown stuff up with my fingers. It was of a texture that brought me back in time immediately to a childhood years ago. I remembered planting a peach pit in the ground, using chubby fingers to scrabble at loose dirt.
Standing up, I surveyed the path ahead of me. The gravel was laced with the same dirt, which began to condense far away. I began to run, an action to which my shoes were not suited to. Soon, the crunching sound beneath my feet stopped, padded by the soft dirt that had replaced the gravel completely. This was very strange, as plants and other such organic things were shunned by a spoiled society. Instead, small oxygen dispensers dominated the sides of buildings, and corners of houses. I hadn’t seen any green of organic origin since years and years ago, when tree’s and plants abounded. I was born into that world, but had it taken from me with the harshness of a bullet, piercing my brain and forcing me to perceive the world in a completely different way. The green was stolen from the environment when I was three. This decision was met with much criticism from environmental groups, but their pleas were cut down by the government; the president citing scientists who claimed their oxygen dispensers were much cleaner, and inhaling such air could increase one's lifespan by 20 years or more. If a person were to live off untainted oxygen, such things as airborne illness would be a thing of the past. This statement resonated strongly with families, especially those with developing children. The public began to get paranoid about breathing in plant-made air, and paid extra money for government-run companies to convert their community to clean ‘healthy air.’ Chemicals were sprayed, killing both dirt and plants. Gardens were converted to gravel, and yards converted to playground-grade rubber mulch.
I reflected upon this as the houses retreated past me, the dirt was still there, all brown and alive with bacteria. Somebody must have put it there, but who? Anybody caught would easily get jailed for quite a while, as was the case with any government offense these days. Suddenly, a patch of green appeared in the distance, bravely attempting to break the redundancy of the landscape around me. I reached it seconds later, and kneeled down, letting my legs get a break. It was a small patch of grass, obviously grown with care. I looked around, noticing small grains littered around the ground. They were grass seed. A sudden realization hit me; somebody was revolting! Finally, after so many years, somebody had begun to bring the plants back, and it wasn’t me. I needed to find this person, and I needed to help him; help him to bring back the trees, the fruit, the gardens, and the forests. So what if people were worried about their health, it was unnatural to live off artificial air. People could live as they had years ago, accepting death as a necessary part of life. I was filled with a sudden optimism, as this was the first goal, the first reason to be I’d had in a long time. I stood up, but kept my eyes on the grass, which was certainly the most beautiful thing I had seen in 12 years.
As the days passed, the grass grew. In a week, the circle had widened to nearly a square yard, and I still hadn’t seen the planter. I checked for footprints in the dirt every day, but found none save my own. On the second week, I decided to take things into my own hands. At the same moment a sudden reality hit me; I had no seeds, and no knowledge of where to find them. I did know who would have some, but whoever it was was being a bit reclusive. I began to formulate plans to find the planter, involving surveillance, and a lot of waiting.
I began by carefully removing one of the surveillance cameras attached to my house,
which were put up there by a paranoid mother who was watching too much TV. Luckily for me, she probably wouldn’t notice its absence until the television lost power, which was an unlikely event in and of itself. I then took my school-issued laptop, and began deleting all of the programs installed on it, leaving the computer a nearly blank shell, save for some video-viewing software I acquired off the internet. I could use this to watch the feed from the camera from the safety of my house.
Sitting on the gravel, waiting for night, I briefly reflected on my accomplishment; in just about two weeks, I had moved up the ranks, from a depressed guy with absolutely nothing to do, to a slightly less depressed guy with quite a lot of things to do. I watched as the sun sank slowly over the roof of our neighboring house, and slowly failed to penetrate the small white picket fence that marked our yard.
I got up as the night began, shouldering my bag, and quickly stepped over the fence, hurrying down the now well-used path. As I neared my destination, I slowed, dropped my bag, and pulled out the stolen security camera. All I needed to do now was attach it to something overlooking the patch of grass, and run back. Unfortunately, it didn’t work out that way.
I reached the grass, and began checking the nearby houses for empty spaces. A slight sound of movement broke the silence, and I froze, flattening myself against the fence. A shape emerged from the shadows. It was big, but not very tall. The steps were slow, but deliberate and nearly silent, and as I listened more I could hear a steady breathing; slow and steady. A man kneeled down over the grass, and began to water it with a water bottle. At this point there was no doubt in my mind who it was, and I stepped out of the shadows, being careful not to make any sudden movements. The man turned and stared at me with intense blue eyes. “Hi.” I said carefully, the man said nothing. “I saw what you grew,” I continued. “I want to help.”
“You insist on me letting you help with my life goal, my hobby, my ultimate reason to be. I shall do nothing of the like.” His voice was deep and breathy, but it was somehow lulling and the same time.
“Please sir! I was born three years before it happened, and I want it back!” I cried,
desperation edging into my voice.
“If you must help, bring me some seeds. Tomorrow.” He continued watering as he
said this, giving no visible indication of his opinion. He left seconds after, lumbering into the distance; leaving me to wonder how the hell I was supposed to get seeds of any type, in any timeframe. I began to walk then, racking my brain for any place that could have seeds. Nothing. Nobody had seeds anymore! How did he expect me to get any? People were literally terrified of them these days! My footsteps began to get harder and louder, and at that point I decided I was a bit sleep-deprived.
The next morning started with a figurative bang, as my brain decided it was time to wake up and swiftly allowed my dream-self to fall between two floorboards into an infinitely vertical tunnel. I sat up, the problem of finding the seeds resurfacing in my head, making it spin. I glanced at the ground; it seemed so far away… I couldn’t bring myself to touch it. But I had to! I needed to find the seed… Where though? I thought to myself as I slowly collapsed back into the warm sheets. They were too warm. My forehead was burning! Aaaagh… I ripped off the covers, throwing them onto the floor. It was no use! I lay in a pool of sweat, watching as the ceiling swirled around, trying to decide if it would fall on me.
The Earth ran its course, following its daily routine of slowly rotating around the Sun, and slowly replacing its view of the Sun with the moon, and that is what I woke up to. I slowly rolled off of the bed and onto the floor, noting that all of my sheets were there, cushioning me. How nice, I thought, snuggling into their warm embrace. I closed my eyes, and then opened them. There was no light shining out of the window. I leaped off the floor. I was late! My body shuddered with frustration as I pulled on a shirt and ran to the kitchen, where I put on my shoes. I stopped at the door, a sudden realization hitting me. What the hell had happened last night? It seemed like a fever, but I’d never had anything so severe. I decided to push it to the back of my mind, and focus on the problem at hand.
I opened the door with a new resolve; to find some seeds before midnight. Unfortunately, it seemed as if the moon was beginning to set. I immediately began to run, over the fence, across the gravel, over the dirt. He was there when I arrived, using his water bottle to water the plants. He hardly looked up at my arrival, and seemed to be waiting for me to say the first word.
“I didn’t find anything.”
“You couldn’t get out of bed could you?” He asked, letting the flow of water stop, and giving me his full gaze.
“How did you know?” I asked slowly, scared of the answer.
“After spending years inhaling artificial oxygen, plant-made oxygen becomes slightly poisonous, and can cause delirious break downs under stress. Even the small amount in your system was enough to incapacitate you for a day.”
This new information immediately sent chills down my spine, and I asked a little too quickly: “How does that not happen for you then?”
“I’ve been inhaling this stuff all my life; my body can handle it.”
“You’ve planted stuff before?”
“Ever since they started.” I was silent then, watching the man rearrange the grass seeds so they were closer together. The man stopped, and with surprising certainty, he said, “You should go.”
“What?” I asked, bewildered. And then I heard it. A low hum, punctuated by occasional bursts of sound, nearly at the top of the spectrum, and it was getting louder. I whirled, but the sound’s source was nowhere to be seen; even so, it was obvious what it was. The police.
The old man didn’t seem nearly as frightened as he should have been, and I was about to help him along, when he suddenly grabbed from behind him a bag; my bag. He handed it to me. “You left this here last night. Take better care of it next time.”
“Thanks, I muttered, taken aback. A quick check revealed that it had all the things that I had put in it; the security camera, my laptop, and some other useless things. I looked back up, but the man had not moved an inch.
“You need to run! If the police see you it’s all over!” I cried, in response to the ever-ascending sound of the sirens. Still no response. They grew louder. “Please sir!”
“How can you be sure they are coming for me?” The man asked, displaying an annoyingly low level of emotion.
“What other reason would they be here for? Nobody does anything police-worthy these days. Add onto that the fact that we are right now in the middle of two rows of houses. Somebody’s probably seen the grass by now!” The sirens stopped then, and an alarmingly close sound of a car door slamming reached my ears. There was no doubt about it. I turned to run, expecting the old man to follow. A glance back revealed that he still hadn’t moved. “Come on!” I hissed, crouching behind one of the picket fences.
“Go, I’m too old for this anyways.”
“Go! You have everything you need! just go!” The man cried, displaying the most emotion I had ever seen in him. I hesitated for an instant, and ran, hearing the pound of heavy boots behind me and a sarcastic greeting from the old man. I didn’t even know his name I thought, swinging myself over the fence to avoid the police officers sight. Glancing back, I could barely make out the man being dragged away by two humanoid shapes, clad completely in black. A large assortment of weapons hung from their belts, and I hoped they wouldn’t have to be used. As soon as they left my view, I vaulted back over the fence and continued to run.
I lay in a state of concentration, trying to discern the old man’s last words. The ceiling loomed in front of me, offering no helpful words of advice. The mattress I was laying on was too soft, and was beginning to lull me to sleep. Finally, I decided to take a walk, and let the inspiration come to me. I got up slowly, stumbling over the sheets I had left on the ground. Opening the door, the strengthening sunlight beckoned, even if it was mostly artificial. I began to walk down the path, trying not to think about anything, but failing spectacularly. The last thing the man had said was: ‘Go! You have everything you need!’ I assumed this meant that I had everything I needed to continue his work, and this meant seeds. It seemed as if I had the seeds somewhere, I just needed to find them. I thought about this for a moment, before I realized that there was only one possible place they could be. Turning on my heel, I ran back through the gravel, nearly tripping over the fence and stumbling through the door into the house.
In the corner of my room lay a bag, the one I had brought with me to the makeshift garden, and the one I had forgotten about shortly after. The old man had given it back to me the next day, and it could have easily have obtained the seeds I needed. I tore through the zipper, throwing the now useless items it contained away, and began to feel along the bottom for a bag of some sort. Nothing. I unzipped the zipper of the smaller pocket and tried again, still nothing. I sat back, defeated. For a while I watched as the sun slowly began to fully illuminate the bag. The black fabric, while sturdy, was still mostly thin, and through a small patch near the front I could see a dark smudge. With adrenaline coursing through my veins once again, I leaped forward, ripping the fabric open and carefully pulling out a small ziplock bag. At the bottom were a measly ten seeds of unknown type. Lifting them up to the light, I could barely make out the beginnings of leaves, their shapes dark against the rising sun, protected in a barrier of hard shell.