Instructor: Jennifer Seward
Science Fiction & Fantasy
Michael stared aimlessly at the fields of grass as he sat in the back of the family minivan. A long car ride would be boring for anyone, but for Michael, it was torture. He was dying to get to his new house, just anything that would put an end to boredom, his worst nightmare. He began to daydream to cure his apathy. His thoughts jumped from tripping his opponent over in a karate match, to hanging out with friends on the couch, to beating a video game as fast as possible — anything other than staring out the window.
Michael was abruptly snapped out of his reverie by the sudden deceleration of the minivan. The car rolled past a few rows of houses until it reached a cul-de-sac, pulling into the driveway of the second house to the left. So this was Michael's new house. The modern-style exterior was pleasant to observe. This gave Michael good expectations for the interior, which he was excited to investigate.
"Alright bud, go ahead and check it out," his dad said, noticing Michael's eagerness to get out of the car. "Me and your mother have to unload a few things into the garage."
Michael's new house was amazing. It had a second floor and basement unlike his nondescript, single-floor old house, and two bathrooms instead of one. Being the adventurous ten year old he was, Michael wanted to explore every inch of it. Only five minutes had passed before he had seen every nook and cranny on the first and second floors. All that was left to see was the basement, which he was the most excited about. In his opinion, basements were the best part of a house because they were the perfect place to hang out with friends or hide from parents. They were spacious and whatever he and his friends did never got in the way of the adults, as opposed to hanging out in the living room.
Michael's heavy footsteps clomped down the short flight of stairs that led to what he expected to be the best room in the whole house. However, the basement was somewhat of a disappointment, as it wasn't very roomy and lacked good hiding spots. He turned to leave, but saw something out of the corner of his eye: another door. That was alarmingly strange. There was no way he could have missed a white door on a laminate brick wall. It appeared seemingly from nowhere. Michael's hand clamped around the doorknob and twisted it to reveal… a bedroom? The spring-hinged door automatically closed behind him. Something felt unsettling about this bedroom. The monotone yellow walls enclosed a generic wooden bed, desk, and closet, all on a blank, '70s-style carpet. It was the blandest room Michael, who could easily discern the fine line between boredom and interest, had ever seen. He examined it more closely to make sure he wasn't missing anything. On the right wall, just out of view from someone looking through the door, sat a window. However, instead of just seeing dirt and whatever else is underground, the above ground level was visible.
Unsettled by this anomaly, Michael thrust the door he had just closed open to find himself in a completely different house. The basement was gone; it was replaced with a hallway that led to a living room. The wallpaper was the same color as the bedroom, sickening yellow. The carpet was the same '70s shag. Beads of sweat dripped down his face as Michael began to panic. He started to hyperventilate. This was all too much to wrap his head around. Emerging from an odd room to another house just wasn't possible.
"This isn't real! This isn't real!" Michael barged down the hallway to the front door. Maybe this was just a big misunderstanding. Maybe he would run outside to see his own neighborhood and then everything would go back to normal. Nope. The neighborhood was a cul-de-sac, all right, but it was full of houses that had been seemingly copied and pasted. To make things worse, Michael couldn't see a single living thing other than the trees, which also seemingly matched each other like the houses.
"Help me!" he yelled at the top of his lungs. Tears flooded out of his eyes. Nobody answered. Wouldn't someone be out and about? What if not a single human being existed here? That meant nobody would be coming to his rescue. He would be stuck here forever. Wait, hold on, what if it was just in this neighborhood? What if something crazy happened and everyone was just hiding? Who knows what could have happened.
"Who am I kidding? I haven't even tried looking around at all," Michael reprimanded himself. He wasn't just going to give up all hope after not even setting foot outside the cul-de-sac. That was just pathetic.
Michael walked down the street, looking around for any sign of life. He passed rows and rows of houses, which eventually came to an abrupt stop. A building that resembled a school stood at the end. Michael examined it curiously. It was even and symmetrical, with 10 windows on each side and a double front door in between two marble pillars. It seemed to defy human ability, as it bore no mistakes or blemishes. Michael walked up to the door, only to find it was locked. He decided to peek through the windows to see if he could spot anybody. He scanned each window on the right side of the building to no avail, but behind the school, in a field, Michael finally found what he was looking for.
About eight kids stood in a circle, all jump roping in unison to the same rhythm. They had light skin, brown hair, and wore white polo shirts. Boys wore gray pants and girls wore gray skirts. Their lack of diversity in appearance intrigued Michael. He approached the ring of jump ropers with slow, uneasy steps. They didn't seem to notice him.
"Um, hello? This is really weird but-" Michael was interrupted by a child who looked up.
"You are not one of us. You are dIfFeReNt." All the kids turned toward Michael, their eyes emanating red, like police lights. A siren played in the distance, followed by the sky suddenly darkening, and hundreds of strange figures emerging from the shadows. Michael's heart stopped at the sight of the figures. They were the scariest things he had ever seen: robotic and humanoid, with tall, slender bodies. Their heads were replaced by singular red spotlights. Their lanky arms reached almost to their feet.
"IMPURITY DETECTED," one of the figures said in a digital voice.
In unison, they lumbered towards Michael. He took off without hesitation, sprinting around the school to the front door, pounding with all his force.
"Help me!" he shouted. "Please! Somebody!" It was no use. They had surrounded him in a huddled mass.
"We are the Difference Detectors. You will be perfected." The Difference Detectors closed in further around Michael until he was completely boxed in. Their spotlight-heads flashed at maximum brightness, the world seemingly dissolving into nothingness.
Michael woke up in a dark room. Something glowed in the center. There, his eyes fixed on a lab capsule, filled with a thick liquid. The faint silhouette of a body stood inside. Michael approached it cautiously until he was face to face with a man who floated in the tank. He looked unnatural, as if someone had taken an eraser and eradicated any ordinary human blemishes such as wrinkles, scratches, and marks. Then Michael noticed the man's hair was slowly changing color, from black to brown. The same kind of brown hair those kids had, Michael thought. Before he could come to any conclusions however, the door burst open, making him flee to a corner.
"Human #3125796 completed. It is finally perfect," stated a Difference Detector. The capsule opened to release its finished product. As the man stepped out, Michael came to a horrifying realization; these "perfect" people were once normal human beings like him. They somehow wound up in this world, only to be captured by the Difference Detectors and "perfected." This man was forced into the capsule, and Michael was next in line.
"How do you feel?" asked the Difference Detector.
"I feel wonderful," the man said in a monotone voice. It sure didn't sound that way to Michael, but the man's bland smile said otherwise.
The Difference Detector escorted the man out of the room and shut the door behind it. Michael had to come up with a plan before the robot came back. It would take more than a couple punches or kicks to bring it down, so he would have to get creative. The Difference Detectors were far more physically superior than he was, so he couldn't use his own force to fight them, wait… That was it! He couldn't use his own force, but he could bring them down using their own force. From taking karate classes for three years, he knew very well how to pull that off.
Just as the Difference Detector stepped through the door, Michael grabbed its leg and held on like a koala bear. It stooped down to pry him off, but Michael slapped its hands onto its own leg just before the robot pulled, then he quickly jumped back. The results were even better than Michael expected. The Difference Detector's strength must have been at least ten times its weight, because it was sent flying towards the back of the room, making an impact crater on the metal wall. Michael wasn't going to wait for it to get up. He jumped to his feet, bolted across the concrete floor, and slammed the door behind him. The Difference Detector didn't pursue him. Probably knocked itself out, Michael thought. The next room was more lit up than the cell he had been in earlier. Difference Detectors didn't patrol the area. Even glass windows lined the walls. Michael stepped over to one, opened it, pushed out the screen, and clambered out. He was free.
The sky had returned to a normal light blue. The trees and houses were still exactly the same, but that didn't matter to Michael. The only thing that mattered was finding a way out of this creepy world, before he was caught by the Difference Detectors, or before he went completely insane at the sheer monotony of this dimension. Whichever one happened first. As for escaping, he only had one good idea, but it was one he felt 99.99% sure about. If anything was going to work, it would be going back to where it all started. Michael looked around, expecting to spot a cul-de-sac, with a school at the end of the long rows of houses, but they weren't there. Wait a second… he thought. He was so stupid! How could he be so oblivious to the fact that the building he had just broken out of could be literally anywhere in the world? A tear inched its way down his cheek. Everything looked the same. He would never find his way back. He would be trapped in an endless cycle of boredom. Or get "perfected."
"Knock it off, crybaby!" he shouted at himself. He recoiled at the volume of his own voice. However, this was true, he realized. He shouldn't be crying about how boring this place was. Heck, the fact that he was being hunted by Difference Detectors made this place exhilarating. As long as he remained hidden from them, there was nothing to be afraid of. This wasn't a nightmare; this was an adventure. An adventure to escape this bland dimension. An adventure to escape Bland Land.