That’s the thing about this city, nobody ever leaves. It’s not that people don’t want to, it’s that they can’t. Nearly everyone was tricked by some horrid thing into coming here, and now they’re stuck. Some think they’ve won a contest, others think they signed up for some college internship. My family had the misfortune of passing through on our way to a beach vacation.
I consider myself lucky, as I was young when it happened. Have no memory of the outside world, no friends or family lost. I was four when my parents thought they found a shortcut to get to some east coast beach, passing through the town and getting in a horrible car wreck as we tried to exit. That’s what happens. Anyone who crosses the border experiences some accident that scares them into staying, and those who push through always end up dead.
We have TV, cell phones, wifi, everything—but it only really goes one way. I can text my friends but if I try to text anyone outside of the city it won’t deliver. We can receive texts from out there though, at least that’s what I’ve heard. I never had anyone to try and text from the outside world.
I plop down on the couch and turn on the television. Some mindless sitcom is playing, which I only half pay attention to. Today is my 18th birthday, and where most people would be excited, I hate it. Apparently in the outside world, I would be soon moving out of my parents house, going off to college, living my own life however I want to, but here it doesn’t matter. There’s no point in leaving the nest when the furthest you can go is within walking distance.
My best friend, Kaylee, bursts in to the room just as I begin to lose myself in the plot of the show. She got stuck here two years ago at the age of 17 when she thought she’d be touring a college. She’s 19 now, and missing out on the beautiful life she could’ve lived. At first, she would get texts and calls from her parents and brothers, but after some time the texts dwindled, and we saw that she was marked a missing person on the news. She lost so much, but still never fails to bring energy into any room she finds herself in.
“Happy Birthday Sarah!” She has a silly grin on her face. “Any special plans? You’re officially an adult now, so it’s got to be big.”
I groan, and turn the volume down for the conversation. “No.”
“Oh come on! Why not?”
“What’s the point? It’s not like it makes a difference, not here at least.”
“At the very least it’s worth cake.”
I roll my eyes, but go along with her when she grabs my arm and pulls me outside. Another odd thing about this place, the restaurants and kitchens and bakeries are always fully stocked with supplies. Money became kinda useless after awhile, so we can really just get whatever we want. People who like structure still have jobs, being the ones to cook and bake and organize and clean all around the city. It’s almost shocking how people want to do these things, even without any incentive like money.
Kaylee takes me to her favorite bakery, which is probably because she has a crush on one of the boys who bakes there. He mostly just makes the bread, but she flirts with him every chance she gets. Upon seeing her walk in with me in tow, he immediately starts towards us. I suppose her feelings are returned.
“What can I get for you lovely ladies today?” He asks, his eyes locked on Kaylee.
She giggles before answering. “It’s Sarah’s birthday today, and I was hoping to get her a cake.”
He nods. “I’ll have Jonathan make that, he’s the best guy for cakes we’ve got.”
I roll my eyes as he runs to the kitchen in the back of the bakery. Kaylee leads me to a small table near the front windows, and we sit down.
“See?” She says. “There is a reason to celebrate.”
“And what might that be?” I respond, trying my best to sound like I don’t care.
“The excuse to eat cake.”
I can’t help but smile at her weak jokes. It isn’t long before two slices of cake are placed on the table, one in front of me and one in front of Kaylee.
“How are you always so optimistic?” I question as we begin to dig in.
“What do you mean?”
“I mean…” I pause for a moment to collect my thoughts. “I mean you lost everything. The outside world, your old friends, your family, all torn from you but you still manage to keep a smile on your face. You can’t even travel, but you still act like everything is fine.”
“Are you kidding?” She seems legitimately appalled at my words. “Yes, I lost things, but I stumbled upon a paradise.”
“Wha… what?” I shake my head for a second, taken aback.
“I get that you might not see it because this is all you’ve ever known, but it’s almost perfect here. If I could contact my family, all I would do is try to get them to join me here.”
My jaw drops at this, and she realizes that she needs to explain.
“Okay, just think,” She begins, “No poverty because you don’t use money. No pollution from cars because everyone just walks and bikes. Since everyone’s stuck here, everyone feels the need to contribute to the community, cleaning up and talking with neighbors. There’s more than enough housing for everyone so there is literally no homelessness, and as for jobs, people do what they love. Think, everyone who works at this bakery is legitimately passionate about baking. The outside world sucks, full of crime and pain and death. Here, if someone dies it’s of old age or illness, and rarely is it illness because the hospital is always fully stocked with supplies and like ten doctors are stuck here. This place isn’t the evil dystopia you make it out to be, it’s perfect, and today marks the beginning of your adult life here.”
I never thought of it like that, and now, as I consider her words, I begin to look forward to my future.