This is a story written for my philosophy 101 class. My professor told a friend and I that we could write our story, which deals with the fear of death a little bit (our current focus in class) instead of an essay. There is a story in there, and we want to re-write it, but here's what we've got so far (to be turned in to the prof). Hope you enjoy, it's just a little tidbit. A lot is going to be changed though.
"Is this clear to you all?"
Questions buzzed through my brain and I raised my hand in the air, waiting for the instructor to call upon me. She looked around regally, avoiding eye contact with me until she saw that no one else had any questions, forcing her to finally answer mine. "Yes, Sienna?"
My stomach tightened with nerves as all eyes in the room turned to me. I took a deep breath, ready for their ridicule, and asked the question foremost in my brain. "How could we possibly have existed forever? How can existence stretch back to infinity?"
Eyes of varying pale blues and greens stared at me, anger the predominant expression in them all. I shrunk down in my chair as the instructor glared at me, refusing to answer my question.
This was always the worst time of the day for me. In most of my classes, I could ignore the burning curiosity that always filled me, but in this one, History, it was a constant struggle for me to comprehend the idea of infinity. Though I hadn't had friends since a very young age, I always felt most alone here. The differences between my class and me stood out more and more each day.
"Does anybody else have a more pertinent question?" asked the instructor, turning to the rest of the class and ignoring me completely.
I stared at my desk as everyone turned back towards the front. It was always like this, and had been since before I could remember. I had been told the story of my birth countless times, about how I had been born missing a vital part of my brain—the extensive thought part. Surgeons assured my parents that I would be able to think, but not to the capacities as everyone else. My parents then insisted that I be placed in school like everyone else.
There had been tests. I could barely remember them, but what I do remember were lots of people in white coats with clip boards. They tested my physical and mental abilities. Based off of the test results, I could function almost normally. I had the capability to learn and process information, and I could do some physical activities, but not anything nearly as extensive as normal people could.
But my "mental illness," as most people called it, was clear in everything I did. Even just looking at me it was obvious. While I retained the same pale coloring as the rest of the population, I lacked a certain set in my forehead, which was where the frontal lobe was located. Everyone else had a forehead that jutted out from their faces, but my head had a caved-in quality to it that kept me separate from the others.
There was more to it than looks, however. I couldn't see as well, move as fast, or last as long as anyone else. I couldn't calculate large sums or equations in my head. The idea of infinity baffled and exhausted me. No one took me seriously.
With my unusually caved-in forehead resting in my hand, I began to trace pictures with my finger on the desk in front of me and tried not to listen as the instructor continued on about the history of the world. I wasn't as successful as I would have liked, however, because questions still came bubbling up when something caught my attention. Questions that everyone else already knew the answers to.
Somewhere in the distance a gong rang. "You are dismissed," the instructor said to the assembled students. "I want a paper on today's discussion by the next class from each of you."
I stood up and started to leave the classroom but the instructor called me back. "Sienna, a word, if you please."
Reluctantly, I turned back and waited by her desk as the rest of the class filed out. Some of the students smirked in my direction but most of them ignored me completely. I stared at the floor, my cheeks heating up in embarrassment.
"Sienna, is there a reason you did not finish this essay?" the instructor asked as soon as everyone was gone.
I looked at the paper she waved in front of me. It was the discussion paper from last week, one I'd felt that I'd done a good job on. "It was finished," I replied quietly.
"Your structure makes no sense," the instructor replied. "Much of what you say has no meaning whatsoever. Your tone suggests that death is distressing, but no one you know will die any time soon. Were you planning on going somewhere with this, or were you just going to leave it? I seem to recall that my normal requirements for papers are much longer than this. Would you care to explain yourself?"
I stared at the paper and at my crabbed, spiky handwriting that contrasted heavily with the instructor's neat, precise commentary. "I discussed the topic for as long as I could, ma'am. I didn't want to be redundant."
"Hmm," was her only reply. I stared silently at the paper for a little longer, then began to move toward the door.
"Just remember the effect this has on you, Sienna," the instructor called behind me as I left. "You don't try to do the work, and nothing good comes to you. Remember that."
I barely managed to keep myself together long enough to escape the shelter our community used as a school. As soon as I stepped into the bright sunshine, however, the tears came out. I clutched the paper I had slaved over to my chest and began to run toward the fields behind the school.
Our community was a wide open place, with open homes made from logs and fields in plenty. But behind those were forests. Most people didn't go into the trees, and no one went beyond those. No one ever felt the need to explore. Since I had been little I had found myself wandering into the forest more and more often, but even I had never been beyond the far edge of the trees. I didn't want to explore territory on my own, especially if no one had been there before.
Now, however, I made my way through the trees to a place that was now as familiar to me as my own home.
There was a small, clear pond lying in the middle of a nearby meadow. Tiny, silver fish darted about under the surface, and frogs leapt in from lily pads lining the shore. Flowers sprang up in little clusters here and there in the grass, and a large, sun-warmed boulder lie half in and half out of the water.
This boulder was where I headed now. On the way there, I picked some red, bell-like flowers and daisies, and sitting on the warm stone, I began to weave them into a chain. As I did so, I let the tears fall like rain, allowing the slow and repetitive process of weaving a flower chain slowly calm and relax me.
"So this is where you disappear to all the time."
Jerking slightly, I turned around quickly.
My older sister, Scarlett, was walking through the flowery meadow toward my boulder. She ran her hands over the flowers as she passed them, smiling slightly. "I saw you run from the school and I followed you here," she added in explanation to my confused look. "From the look on your face, I figured what must have happened."
She sat next to me on the large rock. I said nothing, but continued to weave my chain of flowers.
"You shouldn't listen to them," she said calmly. Taking the crumpled paper I had thrown on the rock beside me, she tore it in half, directly through the instructor's comments, and tossed the pieces into the pond. The papyrus soaked up the water and began to disintegrate almost instantly.
I stared at our reflection in the pond. The two of us looked almost exactly the same except for that vital missing part of my brain. Long, pale hair, ivory skin, and silver eyes set above thin noses. Scarlett was the pretty one. I found myself lacking in comparison. Most of the time, I was hidden in her shadow, a shadow she had no idea she cast.
"It's hard not to," I finally replied. "I'm different, and you know it. Mother shouldn't have put me in school. They move too fast for me."
Scarlett put her arms around me. "You're not that different," she said. "You like to do a lot of the same things as us, you're kind, you look almost exactly the same. I don't know what you're worried about."
It was impossible for me to stop the tears from coming back. "You don't understand," I said. How could she? She was normal, like everyone else. I was the unintelligent one. "You will live your hundred and fifty years knowing exactly what you are going to do. I am going to spend my life not knowing anything that will happen to me, unmarried, unfit for having children, unfit for a job, unfit for life here. I won't ever have what you have, or what anyone has."
She was quiet for a few moments. "Let's go for a walk," she suggested. She took the chain I was weaving and linked both ends together, then put the circle on my head and turned my gaze in the direction of the pond. "I see a beautiful girl, one who could be successful if she chose. You just have to work harder at it than most people."
I saw a girl with a weird head and puffy eyes. With a sniff, I stood up and followed Scarlett further into the forest.
Birds twittered overhead and a few daring ones darted over our heads, warning us away from their nests. Scarlett pointed at a little brown rabbit that had frozen in the brush nearby. I never would have seen it if she hadn't pointed it out.
"They make their way in our world," she said. "You are much smarter than them. Be grateful that you don't have the same mind as one of them."
I was silent for a long stretch of time, and she didn't say anything further. She was right, of course. She always was. In fact, everyone always was, except for me. I made mistakes so frequently that it was expected of me now.
But I should feel lucky to be blessed with at least a thinking mind, rather than an instinctual one.
We were walking near the edge of the trees now, on the opposite edge of the forest from our community. I glanced behind us but saw no one.
"I don't know why people don't come here more often," Scarlett said. "It's so beautiful, especially in the summer. There's a lake that is always warm enough to swim in, and a field that seems to have more butterflies than grass blades."
"It's unexplored though," I protested lightly. I didn't stop, however. If Scarlett had been here before, it must not be that bad.
"Come on, it's not a big deal. There's nothing scary over there." She kept walking toward the open space beyond the trees. I saw no lake, so I assumed that it was farther into the forbidden zone.
We walked for quite some time. It was just like Scarlett had described, with flowery meadows and more butterflies than I had ever seen in one place. I stared around myself in wonder, and smiled when a bright blue butterfly landed on my nose for a brief moment.
A small lake seemed to appear like a mirage after we'd been walking for the larger part of an hour. Scarlett grinned when she saw it, and ran the rest of the distance. When she reached the edge of the water, she called my name and waved me closer.
I joined her at the edge of the water. "It looks cold," I commented. It had an odd surface, one that didn't seem to reflect the sky at all. You could see right to the bottom, and there were no fish anywhere. I frowned, but didn't say anything.
"It never is," she replied with a smile. "Want to go for a swim?"
I shook my head. "I'd rather not. You go ahead though."
She smiled at me and pulled off her summer dress, wearing only her underwear, then plunged in. A frighteningly unusual thing happened then.
The lake didn't make a ripple. Nervously, I looked into its depths, but could not find my sister anywhere.
"Scarlett?" I called. The effort was futile, however. Scarlett didn't appear. I waited, hoping that she would surface and that her disappearance had been a trick of the light. I waited in vain, longer than she could hold her breath, and far longer than I could. She never reappeared.
My breath began to come quicker, and I started searching the edge of the pond frantically, but she was nowhere in sight.
"Oh no, oh no, oh no," I moaned, looking around. I had no idea what to do. I didn't, but maybe someone else would.
Eyes wide, I began running back the way we had come, but I ran out of breath before I could even reach the trees. My mind was numb except for one thought: find help.
I was gasping when I reached the trees, but I continued anyway. I darted around trees faster than the rabbit we'd seen earlier would have.
Someone saw me as I burst through the tree line on the other side and raised a hand to their brow to block out the sun. The man must have realized who it was, because he tried to turn around and walk back into one of the nearby houses.
I reached him before he could, however. I recognized him as one of my instructors of the previous years.
"Instructor," I gasped, clutching his wrist and bending over double. My lungs were completely starved for air. "Instructor, my sister, she fell into a pond."
The man looked at me incredulously. "Then I'm sure she can get herself back out again. Scarlett is a capable girl."
"No," I panted. "She disappeared."
He pulled my death grip from his arm. "Go back to your parents. I'm sure you have work to be done."
With that, he slammed the door of his home behind him.
Trying hard not to cry, I searched the community for someone I knew.
My parents were in our house. I went up to them, and told them my story. My mother smiled patiently at me. While she'd always loved me like any mother would her daughter, she hadn't taken me any more seriously than anyone else had. My father was much the same, patient with me but not understanding.
"There is nothing wrong with your sister," my mother said kindly. "She'll be here soon."
I nearly screamed with frustration. "I was with her, and she just disappeared!"
"Sienna, I really think you need to sit in your room and rethink this," my father said with limited patience. "Your sister will be back. There is no need for this tantrum."
"It's not—," I began, then gave up. They would believe me, and my own parents wouldn't take me seriously, no one else would either.
My only option was to follow her. I growled in frustration and left the house again, heading back toward the forest.
Fear gripped me like an icy claw. The unknown, something I'd never really faced before, frightened me like nothing else in the world ever had. By the time I was in the forest, I was trembling.
I began to run as soon as I was in the trees. It was dark before I reached the other side, but I continued to run anyway. I needed to get there fast.
The air had cooled considerably by the time I reached the pool. It still looked freezing cold. I watched the smooth, glassy surface in trepidation, unsure if I should continue or not.
The thought of my sister, the only person who truly saw me for who I was, was the only thing that allowed me to proceed. I knew she would have done the same for me. Taking a deep breath, I jumped into the pond.
Though I knew this had been no ordinary lake, the sensation of falling took me by surprise. I fell for what seemed like eternity. I thought I screamed, but I couldn't be sure. My ears were roaring and I felt like I was surrounded by nothingness. Then…
My feet hit grass with a thud. Surprised, I toppled over into supple green grass. Moaning, I rolled onto my back and stared at sky just starting to lighten. Confused, I looked for a hole or a mirage in the air that I might have fallen out of, but could find nothing.
I sat up. I was in a field. Standing a few feet away from me and chewing grass noisily was a black- and white spotted cow. Beyond the cow were a few trees, and between them an odd house. It was much larger than any structure I'd ever seen, and though I couldn't tell at this distance, it appeared to be a single, flat, red surface.
Where was I? I recognized none of my surroundings. In the distance there was a stream of moving lights, and more of the strangely flat homes, in various colors. None were as large as the red one, however, which was closest to me.
Somewhere nearby I heard a rooster call and some sheep baaing. Woozily I wondered where the night had gone. How long had I been trapped in that strange time warp?
I stood up and looked around. Scarlett was here somewhere. She had to be.
I looked at the big red house and began to walk toward it. If there was anybody that had seen my sister, they would have.
It was a matter of minutes until I reached the door. It was a huge structure that towered over me like a tree. I felt dwarfed near it, but I knocked on the large doors anyway.
"Hello?" I called softly. "Is anyone there?" There was no answer. I knocked again. "Hello?"
"Can I help you?" a male voice asked behind me.
I whirled around, my hands flying to my mouth to prevent myself from screaming, and found myself standing face-to-face with a tall man.
Not really a man. He was closer to my own age of nineteen. But his height, several inches above my own five feet and nine inches, made him seem older. His skin was an unusual tan color and his hair was black. His eyes were a deep green that stood out in his face. But the thing that had me staring at him with wide eyes was the set of his forehead.
It looked exactly like mine.
"Are you okay?" he was looking at me in consternation.
"I—," I said dazedly. "Your head," I continued. "What's wrong with it?"
That had come out rude. His hand went to his head and he frowned. "I mean," I said quickly, "why is it like mine?"
He was giving me a weird look. "Are you sure you're okay?"
Vaguely I wondered where I was. I had never seen anyone like this man before, and certainly no one else with part of their brain missing. "I'm looking for my sister," I heard myself say distantly.
"Your sister? How old is she?"
"She's older than me by a year," I replied.
He gave me a confused look. "And is she lost? What does she look like?"
"We've never been here before," I said as I looked around. "I love somewhere else. Far away."
"I figured as much when you were knocking on the barn door."
Barn? I supposed that was the large structure I was standing next to. "She looks like me," I continued. "But her forehead is—," I stopped myself. I had started to say "normal," but it seemed that to him normal would be like me. "Her forehead is different," I said. "It sticks out more."
He nodded in understanding. "I see." I wondered what he saw. "Well, I haven't seen her, but you look frightened out of your mind. Would you like some breakfast?"
I stared at this kind man in shock. No one had ever really been that nice to me before. "I really need to look for Scarlett," I began.
"How long since you last saw her?" he asked.
"About three hours," I replied.
"Then she's probably in town by now. I'm sure that if she looks significantly different, you'll be able to find her soon. My name is Kaleb." He stuck out his hand.
I stared at it, unsure what he was doing. "I'm Sienna."
He dropped his hand with yet another weird look. "Well you're welcome to come inside if you like," he said.
"I need to go," I said. "Thank you for your kindness."
I began to walk away, and as I did so I stumbled over my own feet. I supposed I was more tired than I had originally thought.
Kaleb's hand darted out and caught my arm before I could hit the ground. "Be careful," he said. "Lots of stuff to trip on around here."
"Be careful?" I asked. I'd never heard those words placed like that in a sentence before. "What is that supposed to mean?"
If I thought he had been giving me weird looks before that was nothing compared to his expression now. "Take care, watch yourself, don't get hurt, don't drop dead suddenly. I don't know how else to explain it. You really aren't from around here, are you?"
"I said I wasn't," I replied. "Why would someone drop dead suddenly?"
"Okay, you must be from Mars," he said decisively. "People die all the time. It's a fact of life. Someday you'll die, and that'll be the end of it." Seeing my confused look, he continued. "What happens after that depends on your religion."
"Religion?" I asked. "What's that?"
"Belief," he replied. He seemed to accept that I knew absolutely nothing of what he knew and was preparing to explain it all. "It depends on what your beliefs are. Some people believe that you are reborn as someone else when you die, and others believe in a place of punishment and a place of reward for those people who do good or bad during their lives."
Confusion entered my brain. "Doesn't that frighten you?"
He shrugged. "I suppose so. I don't really have a religion, and I think that the fear of death is based a lot around religion. I mean, I'd be afraid of death if I believed that there was a possibility of pain afterward. Have you ever heard of Socrates?" I shook my head. "Well he was a Greek philosopher who believed that fearing death was ridiculous. He wondered how anyone could possibly know that death was bad, since no one had died and come back to life. No one could say what was bad about death, so why should it be something to fear?"
"But you know when you're going to die," I protested, interested in the discussion despite the current situation. "Why would you fear it?"
"Well, sure, we can expect to live a certain length, but no one knows for sure how long they're really going to live, and that frightens people."
"No, everyone knows that they're going to live to be one hundred fifty years old," I protested. "You have time to plan out your life so that you can do anything you might want to in your allotted years. That way, by the time of your death, you've done everything you wanted."
"I don't know where you come from, but that sounds like insanity," Kaleb replied. "No one knows when they're going to die. Accidents happen all the time, and people die unexpectedly. You have to live for the moment, and sometimes that's hard to do if you fear death."
I was thoroughly confused now. "Wouldn't fearing death interfere with your life?"
"That's what I was saying about Socrates. He felt that the fear of death was a waste of your energy, and completely futile. It wasn't worth worrying about to him. Everyone dies eventually, it's just a matter of when and how."
I frowned and thought. This place was so different from what I was used to hearing about. At home, everyone knew that they would live to exactly one hundred fifty years, and they would have that amount of time to plan out their lives. They knew when they would die, and so didn't fear it. If there was something they wanted to accomplish something in their life, they could finish it before their death. So nothing to worry about.
It was then that I realized how different of a place I was in. They feared death as though it were an enemy to defeat, and seemed to take care even when they were simply walking across a flat surface.
I threw a confused glance at Kaleb. "Come on," he said to me. "You look starved. My mom is making breakfast. Let's go inside."
Just then my stomach growled and I nodded. If I was going to find Scarlett I needed to eat. "Thank you," I said, and followed him inside the house.