Pressed Flowers

by Annalise Lozier

I am writing this down so everyone will know the truth of what happened. So it won’t be lost, like so many other things. It is the story of a girl who dreamed of a better world and never reached it. It is the story of a sacrifice beyond all others, a story we must never forget.

It all happened a long time ago, a very long time ago. When I was a little boy in a basement dreaming of a world beyond the one we knew, where water wasn’t rationed and the dessert wasn’t creeping in, inch by inch, like the rising tides in the oceans of long ago; as endless as the desert, stretching out to the horizon, but blue and wet, filling the air with the smell of salt. But unlike our desert, it brought life. We were being forced into a corner and there was no way out. Resources were dwindling, people were dying and choices had to be made. But as it has always been, the government was in the pocket of the rich and powerful. When they discovered Utopia they thought of starting again with only the select few, riding the waves of sand in their arc to safety. To a place that wasn’t fading away, but expanding. They had the means to make the dreams flying through all our heads into a reality, but not for all of us. Not for the poor, the sick, the hungry,  the weak, or the lost. They would rise from the ashes of humanity and create a better world, as fresh and powerful as a phoenix, after they had left the rest of us behind in Haven, our little patch of shrinking land, to die out in peace.

And we would have, had it not been for one girl. She was a phoenix of her own, burning the path to freedom, consumed by her own flames; a girl I knew so very long ago and still see sometimes, out of the corner of my eye. Happy and fifteen, a memory preserved in the back of my mind, frozen in time, immortal, if only in thoughts and words. I can still see her, her black hair thrown over one shoulder, a dress of cheap, gray, cloth, and her battered sneakers that scarcely stayed on her feet anymore. Smiling at me, laughing at some inside joke that I had forgotten, making it all the more funny for her.

She always managed to joke, though there is nothing terribly funny about being in prison, trapped in a shrinking world with no way out. That is what is so wonderful about children, they dream, the wildest fantasies flying through their heads, and that is how it all started, with a dream.

After my parents died I went to work on a farm for a rich family. By the time I got there they already had another farm hand, a girl named Elsa who was working to put food on her family’s table. We were both alone and a long way from home, and I began to look up to her almost as an idol. We worked together for a year and became best friends. We talked of escaping, of the rumored ‘Utopia,’ the place the government was hiding from the public eye. But it was all talk, we couldn’t actually escape. Elsa had her family to look after and the border was heavily guarded, so it was nothing but a wild fantasy until the news came; after that, everything changed. A letter arrived at the farm bearing the news that Elsa’s family, her mother and two younger sisters, one ten and the other only six, were dead. Killed in one of the plagues that spread like a wildfire through the town districts, where the people were practically stacked on top of each other, crammed into tiny, hot, apartments, unable to afford a doctor.


After the letter, Elsa became wild and reckless, and for the first time, when she talked of escaping she was completely serious. We had both been freed, in the worst possible way. We were two abandoned children with nothing to left to lose.

Our biggest problem was the implants, chips that were inserted into everyone’s arm at birth, giving the government the ability to know your exact location within Haven. But they served an even more sinister purpose, for the moment you set foot on the barrier, they would blow you out of the sky. Elsa cried most nights, after she thought I had passed on into the world of dreams, and I thought the tears, the sobs sending convulsions up and down her body, catching in her throat, were of sadness, and at first they were. But I think now that eventually they were caused by the fact that she knew the only way past the barrier, and it terrified her. Then one day, while we were working in the fields planting the new crop, she had informed me, with the strained smile of someone trying to be brave, that she had thought of a way we could get past the barrier, which she would elaborate on once we got there. We planned to set out in a week, and I felt a fierce excitement at the pit of my stomach, like my insides were simultaneously freezing, melting, and twisting together. We had been sneaking supplies for months, a bit here and a bit there, so as not to raise any suspicion, and with a few additions, we were soon ready for the trip. I took with me a book that had been my mother’s most prized possession, a book of poetry by a man called Robert Frost, my namesake. The book was ancient, but the words were magic. He spoke of snow and rivers and grass, of a world that could have been another planet, but was in actuality an echo of our Earth’s past. Perhaps Utopia looks like a Frost poem. I had speculated to myself and when I asked Elsa she had smiled and responded,

“You’ll have to write lots of poems about it once we get there. Words are memories, Bo. And we should never let the wonderful ones fade away.They are like flowers pressed between the pages of a book, we must record what is most beautiful in the world, or when our darkest moment comes, we will forget that the warmth of the sun has ever touched our faces.”

Elsa brought with her a photograph, removed from the frame beside her bed, of her family, when they had all been together and alive.

We had both brought parts of the past, memories of a ‘once upon a time,long ago...’ that had been lost along the way. Like reading a history book, part of you cannot believe that it ever actually happened.

The night we left there was a terrible sand storm raging, but luckily the farmhouse was not far from the border and we made our way there quite efficiently, despite the wind screaming in our ears and the sand being hurled at us like tiny missiles, stinging our bare hands and skin. The sandstorm actually worked in our favor, though. No one could see more than three feet in front of them, so we scaled the fence easily without any of the guards in the watch towers spying us from their perch far above us.

To keep the sand from their eyes, everyone had hoods sewn onto the back of their clothes that could be pulled over their faces. There was a small rectangle of mesh sewn into the so one could at least see a vague suggestion of whatever it was that was that happened to be in front of them. It didn’t keep all the sand out, but it was better than nothing.

At the bottom of the fence we crouched together, I still remember her words, shouted over the wind, “I have a plan for setting off the bombs; once they have gone off, it will clear the path for us, so once you see the explosion, wait a few moments and then run in that direction, the path should be clear. Don’t wait for me, I’ll catch up with you. Just keep running. Do you understand?” Her face was covered by her hood and I could not see her face.

“Yes,” I called back. I could feel the adrenaline running through me, and my hands were trembling, with fear and excitement in equal measure.

“I have to get a bit closer, I’ll see you in a bit,” her voice broke on the last sentence. She gave me a quick hug and pulled a fluttering piece of paper from her pocket, which  I later realized must have been the picture of her family, and charged out into the howling storm. I noticed that she had somehow managed to leave her backpack full of water and supplies behind, so I slung it over my shoulder along with my own and pulled myself into a crouch, waiting for the explosion to add to the inferno.


Moments later, it came. The sound was almost drowned by the howl of wind but I could clearly see the jets of fire shooting towards the sky, the ground wrenched open by explosives. I smiled, part of me couldn’t believe it. She’s done it! We’re free! Elsa and I are finally free! We were going to reach Utopia, and together, I thought, we were going to save the world.

As soon as the explosions subsided I took off running in the direction I had seen them coming from. I felt as though my feet were not even touching the ground, with the wind roaring in my ears and the brilliant feelings of adrenaline and freedom coursing through me, it felt more like flying then running. I ran until I could no longer breath and then sat down to wait out the last gusts of the storm and for Elsa to find me.

By the time the sun rose there was still no sign of her and I decided to sort through the backpacks while I waited. I was a little worried, but figured that she was probably just lost and I would see her again soon enough. Then I found the note; folded neatly, nestled between the canteen and the blanket in Elsa’s backpack, which she had seemingly forgotten. I unfolded it and began to read, feeling as though my stomach had dropped into my toes.


Dear Bo,

I have put much thought into what I am about to do, or will have done, from your point of view. Please believe me when I tell you that it was the only way. It would be impossible to get past the bombs without having to set them off first, and the only way to do that was to walk across them. You have to continue without me. Think of Utopia, you have to get there, save the people! I like to think that I have opened the the gates for so many others, to think that we can start again. Remember me, Bo. Write your poetry and do all the wonderful things there are to do in the world. Please be happy. Be the happiest person alive. Please do this for me.

With affection,

-Elsa


I have kept my promises to her. I set out for Utopia with tears running down my cheeks, knowing that when I had felt so alive and free, I had been running across the remains of my best friend. Knowing that however much I missed her, she was gone forever. She was something that had happened and was over, another person who had faded into the past.

She had planned everything so she could say goodbye and so that I did not have to watch her go. I can imagine her running toward the barrier, towards her death, a picture of her family clutched between her fingers, the souls of those who died in chains giving her the strength to perform her final act. I wonder sometimes if, moments before she died, she had felt as free as I had, running across the desert, or if she had only felt fear, the agony of her body being ripped apart.

The Revolution took time, but it came, and we preached coexistence, a world in which we could begin again. The dreams of two wild teenagers became a reality.

The world is a dark place but through time I have pressed many flowers, as I promised her I would. Though the most incredible flower of my collection resides between these pages and has waited the longest to be written down. For though the Elsa is long gone, her dream of tomorrow remains in our hearts. She has showed us we can recreate the world, and that where there was once only sand, new flowers will grow.