“The End of Everything”

Aastha Singh, Writer

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Editor’s note: The following is a piece of creative writing submitted by freshman Aastha Singh.

Yuta heard stories.

Stories of Earth before the Great Destruction. Told by the wizened elders, sitting in front of the Cabin of the Elderly, rocking in their steel chairs as their minds fumbled to remember the stories passed down from generation to generation.

Stories of nature.

“There were forests of robust trees and springs, full of crystalline water!” they would say, the creaking of their chairs punctuating every word. “There were these things called stars! Oh yes, stars! They were like little lanterns, shining in front of an infinite black cloth!”

The children would listen eagerly, chiming in with questions from time to time.“How big were the trees?” they asked. “What color were the stars?”

“The trees were so big, they looked like they touched the sky!” the elders would say. “The stars were as white as spilled drops of milk!”

Yuta sat and listened at every retelling. He would sit there for hours, absorbing it all, living life through their stories.

Endless beaches with powdery sand, waves crashing and foaming where the water met the shore. Green grass glistening with morning dew as the morning sky lit up in an array of warm hues, spreading like watercolor on paper.  Spring flowers blooming in the bright daylight, as bees lazily buzzed from flower to flower. The pattering of rain on the dark earth, and the fresh, dank smell left lingering afterward. Reds and browns of crisp autumn leaves as they gracefully dance downwards.

Yuta wanted to see it all. He wanted to hear it all. He wanted to feel it all. He wanted to experience it all. He wanted to leave the suffocating bunker behind and live freely.

But he couldn’t. Not without a hazmat suit and heavy air mask, reserved only for government officials and high-ranking scientists. But even then, it would be too late. Everything would already be gone.

Humans had destroyed the earth. They went to work with their saws and loud machines as they hacked down trees and destroyed habitats to make space for their highways and factories. The same factories that spewed virulent waste into the water and toxic gases into the air.

The constant output of harmful substances and destroying of land to build upon added up. Natural resources were steadily depleting. Air quality was getting worse and worse. The natural world was slowly dying.

War broke out. They called it the Great War. Countries used nuclear bombs and neighbor killed neighbor in an effort to claim the scarce supplies left. It was every man for themselves. By the time they all realised that fighting was useless and they needed to cooperate to survive, it was already too late.

The Earth was deemed uninhabitable.

The destruction done by the nuclear bombs combined with the destruction and pollution of the environment had rendered the planet incapable. The air quality had plummeted to levels way below what was considered safe. Nature had simply ceased to exist. The only remnants were stories and memories.

The government ushered the small population of remaining survivors into a bunker hidden below the ground of the earth, extending miles and miles below. Among the few survivors was Yuta’s great-great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Tadashi Hamada, an engineer from Japan.

For generations, humans lived this way, camped in small bunkers underground, shielded from the harsh conditions of the outside world.

Some went to work in the Fields, skin tingling with the heat of the artificial sunlight as they slaved away, planting and harvesting crops to create the meager meals they were served, or in the Mines, slogging away at endless deposits of iron ore and basalt and everything material in between. Others worked as Makers, creating clothes and food and furniture and whatever else the colony needed, or as Teachers, where they taught children of all ages about math and science.

Those with high intelligence levels were set to work as Scientists and Engineers in the Lab, pouring over research and blueprints and prototypes for hours on end. They were the ones who monitored the outside world to determine if it was safe to exit the bunker. Year after year, as the centuries piled up, the answer was always the same: no.

Select individuals were chosen to become Leaders. The Leaders would oversee the colony and make all the monumental decisions. They assigned jobs to the colonists and created the laws that governed them.

Creativity and individuality were strictly prohibited. Individuality was believed to be the root of all evil and the cause of the Great War.  Schools were forbidden to teach useless subjects, such as art or creative writing. Everything done must have a purpose, and the arts have none. Anyone caught secretly engaging in any form of art would be beheaded.

This was why Yuta painted in secret. The artistic spark inside him refused to be extinguished, only growing when he would sit in silence, creating masterpieces on paper in the darkness.

Yuta remembered when they executed his cabinmate Rashid.

Rashid secretly moonlighted as a poet. He stole pencils and scrolls from the School he worked at in the day and wrote poems by night, illuminated by only the light of a weak, flickering candle.

“Hey, Yuta,” he would call. “Listen to this poem I made.”

And Yuta would listen, sitting on the rigid floor of their cabin, painting the night away.

But one fateful day, the Leaders had found his poems and dragged him to Central Hall, calling a mandatory meeting for everyone to watch.

Yuta remembers watching as they clamped heavy iron shackles around Rashid’s wrists. He remembered how the light in his eyes never faltered, never showed a single spark of regret, and how it was extinguished once and forever with the single swish. He remembered the sound of the Executioner’s blade as it sliced through the air. He remembered the pools of crimson blood on the polished stone floors, how it took the Cleaners days of toil and gallons of pungent bleach to get rid of the stain and stench. He remembered the traces of authority that lingered in the air as the Leaders gave their speech on order and community and all other things Yuta didn’t care about. He went home that night, a cloud of anger and remorse constantly shifting restlessly inside of him.

He didn’t dare pick up his berry juice paints and grey-haired brushes that night, or the next, or the next.

As time passed, instead of painting like he usually did, he plotted his escape. Carefully, over the course of many nights, using only the soft wavering light of a small candle to guide him. He spent hours and hours drafting and redrafting plans onto countless scrolls Rashid had hidden behind for later poems that never came.

He was suffocating. He needed to breathe. He needed to calm down.

He shivered and pulled his paper-thin blanket up to his chin, taking gulps of cold air.

There had been another execution that day. This time, it was a young girl, hardly at the age of 13. She was indicted for singing during school.

Now, while drafting his plan to break free, that was all he could think about. The merciless gaze of the Executioner and how it sent chills down his back. The tears trailing down the girls face. The strangled cry she let out as she died. The fact that it could happen to him if he wasn’t careful.

 

He shook his head, trying to clear his thoughts. He had to get a grip. He had to remember who he was and what he was doing.

“My name is Yuta Hamada,” he loudly stated to the empty room. “I am 18 years old. I am in cabin U127. I am artistic. I am creative. I love to paint and express myself. I am sick of this oppressive society. I have to leave.”

He took a deep breath and immersed himself in planning once again, going at it with a new vigor.

By the morning, he had his breakout all planned out, every little detail and action planned out and written down on the 3 scrolls of paper he used. He read and reread to it to engrain it into his brain.

When the booming clang of the morning bell resonated, he filled a small bag he stole from the Maker Rooms with clothes, the emergency air mask that was latched onto the underside of his bed, and his paints. Shoving the bag out of sight under his bunk, he made his way down to the Eating Hall for a quick morning meal, just like he would do any other morning.

When the second bell sounded, he headed to the Maker Rooms where he worked. During his turn to cook the food for the second meal, he surreptitiously slipped dried foods and water into pockets in his clothes.

When the third bell rang, instead of going to eat, he slipped unnoticed back to his cabin. He stuffed the food and water into his bag and silently bounded out.

He navigated the vast halls until he found the small alcove by the Monitoring Lab doors, the only way to the outside world, quickly stuffing himself inside lest the guards see him.

He grabbed a rock from the depths of his bag. He took a deep breath and lobbed it far in the other direction. The stone made a thunderous noise where it clanked against the floor.

The guards whipped their heads towards the noise, briskly striding towards it.

“What do we have here, Felix?”

“I think it’s a rock, Paul.”

“Where did it come from?”

“How am I supposed to know? You got any idea, Yan?”

“Heard a sound coming from the right. Must’ve been thrown from there.”

“You’re insane, Yan. It had to have been hit from the left.”

From his small nook, he could see that the watchmen were distracted. This was his chance. The coast was all clear.

So he ran.

Past the preoccupied the watchmen, not bothering to give them a second glance.

Past the stocky guards guarding the towering gray doors of the Monitoring Lab.

Past the shell-shocked scientists, knocking over vials of chemicals onto the pristine ivory floors

and shattering delicate machines.

He ran straight into the tunnel leading to the Outside Gate, ignoring the bright neon colors of the warning signs adorning the walls. He ran for what seemed like miles until he saw a small ray of light reaching out from the distance. As he sprinted farther, the blurry shape of a glass and cast iron door came into focus.

He was almost there. Almost out. Almost free.

And then he tripped.

In an instant, a throng of grey-clad guards surrounded him, a solid wall of muscle. The light coming from the door filtered through in between the guards, tantalizing him with false promises of liberty and freedom. They scowled down at him, arms crossed as if the thought of some scrawny kid slipping through their fingers angered them.

They began to converse, at a loss of what to do next.

“What d’you reckon we do next, lads?”

“I dunno, Mike. Do we lock him up?”

“How am I supposed to know? Hey Pierre, you think we should lock him up?”

“Hell, I have no idea. Ask Egor.”

As the sentries discussed, Yuta planned on a path to escape. He had come all this way, he was determined to not let his hard work go to waste. His plan was to grab one of the numerous rifles hanging from the mens’ waist belts, shoot everyone, and run. He slowly shifted himself into position.

But his attempt at escape was foiled by the sound of expensive shoes clicking along the floor.

The Supreme Leader pushed his way through the bickering men and stood firmly in front of Yuta, beady eyes glaring down at him in distaste.

“Well, well. What do we have here?”

The guards exchanged looks, unsure of what to say.

“He was running, sir. Broke all the things in the lab. Threw test tubes and stuff. Ran all the way down here before we could catch him. I reckon he was trying to escape. I saw it happen myself. The vials splashed everywhere and-”

“That’s enough, Bosede.”

The Leader looked Yuta over, eyes scanning every inch of his body. He turned back to the men and gave them a brief nod.

“Take him away, boys.”

They roughly grabbed his limbs and hauled him up, dragging him away. All around him, the loud toll of meeting bells rang, signaling for everyone to stop their work and congregate at the Central Hall to witness a special event.

His execution.

This was it. The end of everything.

He was tossed harshly into a metal chair, guards strapping him down with twine so that he wouldn’t escape. He could feel the fearful, watchful eyes of the colony, everyone dreading seeing what would happen next.

The Executioner unsheathed his well-oiled scythe as everyone watched with bated breaths.

He bared his teeth in a gruesome smile and took a swing.

Yuta felt a bout of searing pain cut through his body. He saw the maroon red taint of blood splash onto the ground under him and heard the screams of young children, tasted the salt and smelt the iron of the blood seeping out of him.

But even then, Yuta was content. He wouldn’t have to live life as a captive. He could finally be free.

The last thing he felt was the chill of the cold stone floor, a deep inky darkness clouding his vision as he took his final breath.

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