A custodian sits in a dark room. He rises and begins to sweep. All there is, he mumbles, all there is…He knows he must keep the room clean. It is his only duty. It has always been his only duty. Before him, it was his father’s duty, and before that, his grandfathers and so on. He maintains the glass container of the inhabitant of the room. It is a delicate process, one that must be done with care. He knows this. He has become good at caring for it. He lives in the room next door, so he is able to keep an eye on it at all times. His father told him that this job is an honor, the best a man could possibly have right now.
The world they live in is a messed up place. The people fought and fought with one another until nothing was left. They destroyed the land and killed each other in the process. Few have survived, only the strongest families, and even they will die off soon. In this world, love has become forbidden. There are too few people for anyone to pick and choose whom they will be with. All pairings are made up by the elders. Because of their mistakes, they have been forced to resort to old customs, and the society suffers from this. All there is, a phrase he has been told to repeat since he could speak, refers to the thing he cares for inside the room.
He has been told that, slowly, the thing will learn to take care of itself. One day it will be able to survive on its own, everyone hopes. It is their main devotion. It is the only thing left that matters. It is the only hope. All there is.
Compensation is what it truly is. Angry and upset that they have ruined their world, they decided to create a better place. The place is imaginary, but they do not mind. It is a world where things are better, and it exists only in the thing, which lives in the dark room. A brain is what some may call it. It is what the man cares for so carefully, a brain, which holds this world, composed of places and people it has made up. The brain was taken from a young girl; therefore, it sees from her perspective, and the people who control the brain have created the world in which she “lives”. Due to the fact that her entire life is a figment of her brain’s imagination, they are able to monitor her life somewhat like a movie. They call the world she lives in: life on earth. But she does not know anything. She does not know that it is all imaginary. She cannot. Her brain is programmed to believe that her world is real. She is lucky. She will never know the real world, the one ruined by the real people. She believes that her troubles are huge. That is what they want her to believe. What to wear to school, that is what her biggest trouble should be. They call the brain and the girl from which it came, Sandra, and she is only priority. She is just a test run, though, a project they have been working on for many years. The project is called Project Earth and the plan is one day, everyone’s brains will be placed in glass containers and everyone will live on “Earth”, the imaginary but better world, everyone except for the man and his family. They must stay back in the ruined world and tend to these brains.
The man does not like Sandra. He keeps it a secret, though. The job of caring for her pays well, and with this money, he is able to buy what little luxuries are left in this failing world. If anyone were to ever find out his deep hatred, he would be killed. The job would be appointed to another family, and any family would be glad to get it, since no one knows how long it will take for Project Earth to actually be implemented. There is no room left for mistakes in this society. Those who break the law are instantly punished with death, and “THE ONLY FEELINGS YOU CAN EXPRESS FOR SANDRA ARE RESPECT AND CARE” is the first law.
Some days the man wishes he was Sandra. Jealousy, it’s an awful emotion to feel. He can’t understand why someone else got to live in this unreal world, and why he had to be stuck in this awful one. It hadn’t been his fault that his world had crumbled. He was just unlucky enough to live in it. Born in the wrong place at the wrong time, is what he sometimes thinks. He knows his world hasn’t always been so bad. There was once a time when the real world had been just like Sandra’s is now. After all, “Earth” is based on their world. Unfortunately, the man has never lived a day where his world was like Sandra’s, he has only seen pictures, and heard stories. Bitter, is what he is. He sits down and begins to watch the monitor that allows them to see into the thoughts of the brain. Her world is now all there is.
He rises, tired from another mundane day. His days are all the same and because of this, they seem to slur together. He is depressed, but truthfully who isn’t anymore? At least in his world… He grabs the brown wooden broom, the one that has been used every day since Sandra was created, and begins to sweep. Sweeping relaxes him, allows him to concentrate on nothing but the movement of the broom. He knows the room is clean, but he cannot bear to stare at the screen any longer. Back and forth, back and forth goes the broom. He begins to sweep faster. Back and forth, back and forth, he goes! His grip becomes tighter. Back and forth! Back and forth! He is sweeping as fast and as hard as he can until—SNAP—the ancient broom breaks in half. He is shaking with rage. He throws the two halves of the broom on the ground and begins to pace the dark room. Nothing and no one can calm him down now. He has kept this anger suppressed long enough, but what he saw on the monitor, it was the straw that broke the camel’s back. He had never been so angry before in his life. What he saw Sandra experience was love.
Love: something he had never experienced and never would. It was what he desired. He had only ever heard about it. To him, it was a strange but engaging concept. It angered him that this imaginary girl created by his world was able to experience what none from his family would ever be able to experience. Why? he thought. WHY? It was unfair. All of it. He couldn’t even begin to fathom it. He began to knock things over in the dark room, anything that could fall and break, he made sure that it did. Then he thought of the unimaginable.
He closes the door to the dark room, even though no one would be coming any time soon. They trusted him. They knew he cared for Sandra well, and so, they went about their lives today just as they would any other day. He picks up half of the broom, swinging it back behind his head and in a swift motion, he brings the broom forward, striking the glass container of the brain. It breaks and the brain falls out onto the ground. He takes a few more swings at the brain itself, even though he already knows Sandra is gone. Sandra’s world, all there was, is gone.
He sits in the dark room, preparing for his death. They will be coming any minute now. He can hear the sirens in the town, indicating that something is wrong with Sandra. He can hear voices down the hall, coming towards the dark room. He stands up, picks up the half of the broom with the bristles, and begins to sweep. All there was, he mumbles, all there was…
Tara Ivic-Pavlicic, Age 14, Grade 9, Stuyvesant High School, Silver Key