December 11, 2023

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Scholastic Writing Award: Paper Slave  

by GVHSJagJournal
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By: Neshal Kothari

No one remembers how they fell into The Place Where We Forget. The ones that do, they aren’t here anymore. They made it out. Some would even say that they locked themselves into a larger prison. Choices are abundant yet nonexistent in The Place Where We Forget. Like death. If it was inevitable, thousands would choose to forget here. Others live forward, not necessarily because it isn’t inevitable, but because they wanted the choice. Or at least thought they did.

The Boy fell into The Place Where We Forget randomly and harshly, as if he’d been thrown out of a household and onto the street. If the universe remembered how he fell in, it didn’t take its turn in saying it. He was a young, fair boy with dusty blonde hair. He wore generic clothing and a set of crappy glasses, albeit cracked in half and held together by a strand of loosening tape. His mind had been plagued by the rules of The Place Where We Forget, and he couldn’t remember any of his memory before he’d entered the domain. Only a flashing of one image remained. A girl, his age, having the same hair, face, and style of glasses, laughing. He couldn’t remember why she was laughing, but he remembered her. 

Even though he himself couldn’t remember it, The Boy was sharp and had a keen eye. He scouted his surroundings. The Place Where We Forget was far from a celebration. It held a dark gloom over the town, one of hopelessness and regret. The playground was dotted with scrap metal, tossed and forgotten, acting as the havens for the ones who pushed forward. The other white spots included sustenance in supplies, and the tribes of those who didn’t push forward. In contrast, The Boy chose to. He wandered through The Place Where We Forget, attempting to navigate the hell while trying to remember how and when he got there. 

The Man had seen him fall. He chose to keep his distance. The Boy was young, he thought. But he was smart. The others had immediately thrown themselves into panic, but he’d maintained composure. And he’d chosen to move forward. Few picked the route. The Man had watched The Boy for some time, waiting for his moment. 

“Who’s there!?” The Boy said, after The Man had moved a little too close, “Show yourself!” He had an accent, but The Man couldn’t remember what type of accent it was. 

“Don’t be scared,” The Man said, finally revealing himself. He looked like a worthy traveler, perhaps reaching the middle of his life, but no one could be sure, “I didn’t mean to scare you,”

“What is this place!?” The Boy said. His peaceful composure had dropped at the sight of danger. It wasn’t necessarily the sign of immaturity, yet the significance of the boy’s innocence. The Man chose to tread lightly.

“Calm down. You’re not in danger. But you’re not free, either,” The Man explained, “Do you remember your name?”

The Boy searched his thoughts, growing frustrated at his inability to answer the simple question. After several seconds, he shook his head, “I don’t even remember who I am,” he said. 

“Do you remember anything before you fell into this place? Any memories or people that might have importance to you?” The Man asked him. The Boy remembered the flashing images of the girl he’d seen laughing before. When he first arrived, the image had bewildered him, but now, it seemed to make perfect sense. 

“My sister,” The Boy answered, “I remember my sister laughing. Because she’d just beaten me at a game, and I’d broken my glasses in the process,” he said, taking his glasses off to look at the piece of tape. 

“Good, do not lose those glasses, Boy,” The Man said, beginning to walk away. The Boy put on the pair of glasses and began to run to The Boy.

“Hang on, sir! Am I meant to follow you?” The Boy asked. The Man said nothing. 

“You still haven’t answered my question about this place!” The Boy said, grabbing the arm of The Man. The Man shoved The Boy’s arm off.

“Let me ask you something, Boy. Why is it that you can’t remember anything? Why are you so confused about how you came here? I’ll answer that. This is a terrible place, and you’re better off if you just hold onto your talisman,” The Man explained. 

“What’s a talisman?” The Boy asked. The Man had known what a talisman was, though he couldn’t quite remember how he knew. 

“A talisman keeps us connected to the other world. It holds a memory that we can remember, and for most of the people down here, it’s what keeps them sane,” The Man explained, pointing at The Boy’s glasses. The Boy pondered himself for a moment.

“When we come here… we forget everything about our past life,” He’d realized, “But not everything. With a talisman, like my glasses, I can remember parts of it,” The man nodded. The Boy was alarmingly bright for his age. 

“Don’t lose those glasses, Boy, otherwise you’ll become a Lost One,” The Man gestured off towards the side. Two figures, Lost Ones, each muddy and scorned sat on the ground, surrounded by landfill. The Boy seemed awestruck.

“Who are they?” The Boy asked, his curiosity had always gotten the better of him. Maybe it was that curiosity that got his glasses broken. 

The Man shook his head, “Don’t worry about them, we just have to pass through,” The Man told The Boy, as they approached the figures. Upon closer inspection, one seemed more estranged than the other, muttering to himself as he held a set of broken scissors close. 

“It’s here… It’s here… IT’S RIGHT HERE!” He yelled, holding his scissors high. The other figure scoffed.

“What is he on about?” The Boy asked The Man as they walked by. The Man shook his head.

“He’s The One Who Departed. He believes those scissors were his talisman. Whether they were or weren’t, he can’t remember anything anymore,” The Man told him. The One Who Departed attempted fruitlessly to reassemble the scissors. 

“My life.. My life… take me back, take me BACK!” He screamed. But The Boy knew that The One Who Departed could never return to his life. If he were ever to return, the world would seem mad. 

“How does one return, if it’s even possible? I’d like to,” The Boy asked The Man. The Boy grew anxious at the answer. The Man nodded.

“It is. There’s a gateway at the edge of this world, all one needs to do is step through,” He explained. The Boy turned his head. 

“If it were that easy, why haven’t many people come out?” The Boy asked him. The Man said nothing.

They’d finally reached The Man’s haven. It was a poor shack, but rich with sustenance to prosper down here. Only a few measly luxuries existed. A bed, a table, and a clear paper. 

“We’ll rest for a while, then return you to your home,” The Man told The Boy. The Boy looked across the house before picking up the piece of paper. It held a single word.

“Hiro? What’s that mean?” The Boy asked The Man. The Man took a second to look at the paper himself, before shaking his head. Nothing.

“Why don’t you call me Hiro then, since ‘Boy’ is degrading enough?” The Boy told The Boy. The Man chuckled. Perhaps curiosity and proudness cost The Boy his perfect glasses. 

“Well, Hiro, are you ready to go home?” The Man asked Hiro. Hiro nodded, pocketing the paper. Maybe if he had it, he wouldn’t forget his new name. 

Hiro and The Man began their trek to the edge of the world, and the path had taken them to the familiar spot seen yesterday. The One Who Departed was nowhere to be seen, and the other figure remained on his throne, proud. 

“Off to leave, then?” The figure sat up to look at the two. Hiro sensed the hostility and stood his ground.

“Yes I am. I am going to leave and return home to my memories and my life,” He said proudly. The Man looked distasteful.

“The real world? It’s bogus! Why go back there when it’s so much easier here?” The figure exclaimed, “Your companion knows it’s the truth,” He said, looking at The Man slyly. The Man grew angry and stepped to face the demon.

“I didn’t choose this, you’re The One Who Chose,” He leveled at the figure. The figure scoffed, before taking his seat back down. Hiro looked at The Man, who had intense emotions written over his face. There was some unspoken dialogue, Hiro wondered. 

“We’re here,” The Man said, pointing forward. At first, Hiro saw nothing, but then he realized that was the point. The border of the world was a dark fog of mist, “You just have to walk through,” The Man told him, stepping backward. Hiro stepped towards the mist and put his hand through. He could feel the tasteful experiences coming back to him when he did. But he hesitated.

“What are you waiting for?” The Man asked him, “Go on, Boy, get out of here,” He told him. Hiro shook his head.

“Why haven’t you left? You aren’t insane like The One Who Departed and The One Who Chose, but you’re still here,” Hiro asked him. 

“I can’t leave,” The Man told him, “It’s not in the cards for me, not anymore,”

Hiro looked confused, “What do you mean? Just walk out, isn’t it easy?” He said, gesturing to the mist. The Man looked away as The Boy realized his meaning. It wasn’t.

“You fell into this world less than a week ago. I can’t even remember falling into it anymore. I don’t know what’s on the other side, or if I even have anything left on the other side. But part of me still remembers it. The peacefulness, the love, the environment. And that part of me wants to leave,” The Man explained, as Hiro finally understood. 

“You have a talisman, don’t you?” Hiro asked him, to which The Man nodded, “What is it?” The Man only looked to The Boy’s pocket.

“You’re scared of what’s on the other side, but you don’t want to stay here anymore. Let me help you,” Hiro told him. The Man laughed.

“You’re just a child, and you have to leave. What says you even remember me once you do?” The Man told him. Hiro pulled out the paper he took from The Boy’s haven. 

“This. I’ll bring a talisman back to the world. I’ll remember how I got in, and I can come back for you. I’ll save you,” The Boy told him. The Man stared at the paper for seconds, before finally looking to the mist. The Boy understood the sign of approval, and walked through the mist until The Man couldn’t see him anymore. The Man looked away, beginning his trek back. 

As Hiro stepped down from the mountain he’d climbed to get to the gateway, he felt his attachments to his talisman leave as his memories of the other side grew more and more transparent until finally, he couldn’t remember anything at all, not even his own name. His journey was almost complete, and he’d reached the sitting place of The One Who Chose and the One Who Departed, though the area was now vacated. 

Hiro looked between both empty spots, previously belonging to The Lost Ones, trying to figure out where to sit. He felt like he’d sat somewhere else before, but he couldn’t quite remember where. 

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