The Cave (Winner of the More Than This Contest 2013)

Edenlives in a world, where no sky exists. And every single day, she feels like her world is growing too small. She wants to know if her notorious father was right - if life is more than just plain white walls, divisions and regions under ceilings. She wants to touch the stars - to know that they are real.


1. The Cave

One. Section 10.


There’s a window right above me, and at night it changes colour. Normally the light makes everything bright inside here; then when dusk arrives, everything in the window melds into a soft peach, before being dipped in violet, and then slowly drained into black. Most of the time, stars freckle the window. I think freckle is the right word… I have some on my skin. Except they don’t glimmer like the ones in the window.

Sometimes, a moon shows up. It tends to spill light on everything inside Home. All the lights go out automatically after 12am, but I can always catch just a little more reading afterwards, when the moon comes out; if I sit in the right position, with my back leaning on the metallic wall behind me, then I should be able to read without squinting too much.


There’s an automatic door to the right of my bed, but it doesn’t open on my command. It can get quite scary, when I have panic attacks and I feel the need to breathe a little, but there’s another room made specifically for fresh air. A ventilator system blows clear air through the celling. The room is just pure white, and up to fifty people can be in there at a time; there are benches and grass, and a few trees on the wall. I don’t think they’re real trees – everything else in Home and Section 10 is 3-dimensional. Yet, you can’t touch the trees - they stand flat on the wall, and sometimes they disappear. My friend Joseph thinks I’m crazy, when I tell him they can’t be real.


‘But they’re not always there, Jo. They look electric. Maybe they go at 12am.’

‘I highly doubt that, Eden. A lot of things look electric. The lights, the TV, the speakers in our homes, but they are real.’

‘When you try and touch the tree, all you feel is the wall.’

Jo always rolls his eyes. ‘What - you expect to feel the tree? Tell me Eden, can you feel light?’

‘Yes, sometimes it’s warm.’

‘No – I mean, feel it. Hold it.’

‘… I suppose not.’

‘So you can’t just sit there and claim that everything in the Park is not real. I bet you’ll tell me the benches are artificial too, right?’

‘I didn’t say everything. I just said the trees.’


Home is door number 792 in the hallway, and Joseph lives at 785, a few doors away. He lives closer to the elevator which takes you down to the main lobby. There are loads of entrances in the main lobby; there is even one where you can take a train to school, in this really cool tunnel that runs down for five minutes. Sometimes when I do my homework on the way, I watch the lights go past one-by-one, really fast. It feels like I’m in space – the teacher says space is the place in the window, where all the freckled stars are. Right between them all. She says it’s virtually impossible to ever witness it, though. It’s like a Heaven, I think. Maybe we will leave through the window and out of Section 10 when we die. Most of us just end up in the crematoriums, and brushed down to the core of the earth, in this big wide hole.


The teacher shows us a map of the Earth – it is a wide, flat terrain that goes on for thousands and thousands of miles and is divided into many regions, sections, and subsections. We live in Section 10, in the North Region of Earth.  I wonder we know how Earth really looks without seeing the whole picture – surely, there’s something higher than the ceilings, where we can peer down and see everything on? And if the stars are so out of reach, why can we see them?


Our Homes have up to three bedrooms, a living room, and a bathroom, all one level. They are quite small, too – over 50,000 people live in Section 10 alone, which stretches out for miles. Still, there needs to be room for other things, like the Parks and the Lakes, which are just pools of clear blue water that you can sometimes swim in if you like. Also, not to mention the schools and the Hospitals and the Shopping Complexes in the centre of the Section. We could go to other Sections (which are also known as towns) but that would require strict security to get across the borders. There is no way to climb over the walls or even under – the boarders are far too big. It’s almost as bad as moving Regions, which can take up to a day in a train to get to the next. Another word for a Region is a country; we learnt that in Geography once.



My Father doesn’t live with my Mother and me at Home. He was moved to another part of the Section. He has lived in the Hospital since I was five, which was four years ago. He hasn’t got cancer or anything, like some people develop. He’s in the Psychiatric Ward to be more clear, meaning he’s a little crazy. It hurts when I hear stories told about him, but Mother just tells me to keep my chin up and carry on living.


‘Adam Christophe is still on the mend, after all these years?’ I once heard a man say in the canteen hall.

‘What do you expect? He has been so adamant that the Regions are just the tip of the iceberg in our world, for the past decade. He thinks there’s another realm. It’s like he believes in aliens. The kid’s insane.’

‘He said he saw it once. He said it looked better than the Sections. Come on now, what is honestly better than the Sections? We have everything we need here. Everything. We have a beach, a park, lovely homes, schools; the lot. What can honestly make him believe there’s more? He probably took a trip into the Chemistry Division and mixed up some meth.’


I remember hearing them laugh, like it was honestly the funniest thing in the world. If I had it my way, I would walk up to them and punch them. But the tag on my wrist would probably beep Red like it did in emergency, and the Section Patrolmen would take me down to the cellars. I don’t know if it can happen to kids, though. I’ve seen it happen to people before. The one I remember most distinctively was my Father, back when I was four and he came back Home after having gone missing for three days.


He was arrested by the Patrolmen, who stormed towards him in Patrol uniforms, all white. Even the helmets. When his tag went off in the middle of the Section 10 lobby (which is always swarming with people on a regular day), they grabbed him and took him away.  He had begun yelling at another man, who seemed to dismiss everything he said. At the time, I was on my way to the Tunnel to take me to school and I saw the nightmare unwrap before me.



My Mother was sent to the Law Enforcement Department, which is just on the outskirts of Section 10, where they told her that he was arrested on charges of assault and disorderly conduct. They did further tests when they thought that there must have been something more wrong with him. He was diagnosed with severe Schizophrenia, and sent to live in the Psych Ward. That’s all there really is to it.


Mother doesn’t like talking about Father much, but I know she misses him. I tried asking if she knew what he meant all those years ago, but she brushes away the memories. She always says she can’t even remember what he was talking about – yet everyone else seems to, which is quite odd.


‘Why do people say such mean things about Dad?’

‘Eat your dinner, Eden. I didn’t walk all the way to the Complex from Home for you not to finish your food.’

‘Do they mean it?’

‘Mean what?’

‘When they say he thinks there’s another world.’

‘People talk a lot of nonsense, Eden. Rumours always spread, on a daily basis. It does not mean they are true.’

‘What if they are?’

‘Are you willing to believe them? Are you willing to accept things at face value? Oh, they said it so it must be true.’

‘I was trying to tell Jo that today.’ I say, shoving some ready-made roast potatoes and vegetables in my mouth. Mother freezes. ‘What were you saying?’

‘We were at the Park. I was telling Jo that I don’t think the trees are real. I don’t think anything on TV is real too.’


‘Well… they seem empty. If they are real, they remind me of the stars in the window. It’s like; they’re here, but not quite here. Does that make sense?’

‘Eden, I think you need to stop thinking too hard. Of course the trees are real. Everything here is real, OK? You’re being strange.’


I swallow my last forkful before going off to my bedroom to finish off my book. It’s about a girl, who drowns in a deep Lake, and her ghost travels around Earth and into the lives of those she could never witness closely enough, like the boy she once loved. It’s so cool, because she can move between all the white walls and see people who can’t see her. And everyone is oblivious to her. I wonder if she could be out here really, but no-one sees her including me. She’s probably watching me read this story about her. Then again, probably not.


I look up to the window and watch it turn pink. Every so often, soft clouds pass by. This time I stand on my bed and try to reach, but it’s near impossible. What if I can feel the stars? How would they feel? What if the window was not just a flat surface? It is too high for me to reach, anyway – the ceilings are many feet tall, almost like the walls in the school hallways. I think it is so nobody can try and break through them. Sometimes I think the whole Earth is like the police cellars – I don’t know why, but I feel too big in here. I’m turning ten in a few more weeks, so I’m not that big – but I feel it. Maybe the ceilings are not high enough, or the rooms and the lakes and the parks are not big enough.

One day, I’ll find a way to reach the window, and maybe it won’t just be flat like the trees in the Parks. Maybe my hand will go straight through, like opening a door.




‘So someone tell me; what is the Capital of the North Region?’ Miss Williams asks.

Tom Yuki throws his hand in the air. She picks him.

‘Section One, miss. Also known NR-1.’

‘Great. And this Section is…’


‘Now,’ Miss Williams continues, pacing up and down the classroom. There are not any windows in here, but instead there are pictures on the walls. Pictures like animals, plants, mountains, etc. Miss Williams says that the animals are extinct; they don’t exist anymore. I don’t understand why we still exist and they do not. And the mountains are big white, rocks that stick out of the ground. You can find them in the big Nature Reserve, where people climb them for fun. The ceiling is huge there. Big enough for all these hills to fit inside. The Nature Reserve seems to go on forever, with many trees and grass, all over the place. It’s mainly windy in there, but it can get hot in Summertime when the lights go off later at night. In Wintertime, lights begin to dim at 8 o’clock, which can get scary. Also, the vents freeze up and everything is cold.


‘The North and Western part of earth is a collection of Regions, that hold predominantly white Caucasian people - apart from the odd minority races of Asians, Latin Americans and Black people. Those are mostly spread out in the Eastern and Southern Regions. There are over 7 billion human beings on Earth as of this moment, and the population is continuing to grow.’ Miss Williams blabbers on. I look at the white dress she wears, and how her tag is glowing green – meaning she is currently working. There is a weird system which means that any person can be tracked, based on their tags. They have to be worn at all times; otherwise it will cause a lot of confusion. Different colours mean different things; the database can understand what each person is doing at that time or where. Green is work, Blue is home. Yellow is out shopping or in public like at the Park, and Red is normally just an emergency colour.


‘Some people live at the coast, by the ocean. Do you know what the ocean is?’

‘It’s the mass of water that can go on for miles and miles, Miss.’ Tiffany calls out.

‘Yes, Tiffany. Those that live near the coast can sometimes live close enough to go to the huge glass wall that separates them from the sea. Isn’t that cool?’

‘Can we go there one day, Miss?’ someone asks.

‘…Maybe. But it is hard to leave this Section. It takes a lot of paperwork.’

‘What would happen if the glass broke?’ I spurt, without thinking. The whole time, my mind was still wrapped around the thought of the glass wall.

‘Well, Eden – water would pour through, and probably drown us. That is why the glass is impossible to penetrate, even with the force of the ocean.’

Another question pops into my head. ‘What is above the ocean? Is it another ceiling?’

‘…No, Eden. The ocean is the furthest you can get. You cannot get above it.’ She gives me a weird look.

‘Do you not think that is a little strange? That there’s not more?’

I can tell that the class is getting impatient with me. Jo is my only friend, and he’s not in many of my classes. I can tell that most people find it hard to tolerate me. I am always the one piping up, only to ask strange or useless questions.

‘Eden, I honestly do not know where you get this idea from. What would possibly make you think that there is more? We live under the crust of the Earth, and above it is just rock and space – like the moon. Nobody would survive above the highest ceiling. There’s no air up there.’


At lunch we eat food in the school canteen. I sit just with Jo, and we share a bowl of vegetable soup. It is the easiest food to buy, because vegetables grow in the soil, which is always close by.

After lunch, we have to go for a routine jab and a check-up, where they inject us with minerals and healthy stuff to keep us fit. Also, they can check if we are catching any illness and quarantine us before it can get any worse. Colds are caught so easily here – everyone is so cooped up sometimes and it’s easy to go around.

‘Have you ever heard of the Sun? It’s a huge star, like the ones in the windows but bigger.’ Jo says. ‘It’s the reason that the window turns light blue. Then the Earth turns to face away from it, and it goes dark again. But the people in other Regions now have the Sun, so it’s day over there.’

‘Can you touch it?’

‘No, Eden.’ He snorts. ‘What’s your obsession with touching things? Anyway, it’s too far away.’

‘Hold on – Miss Williams told us that the oceans by the coast end right at the top of the water… what about the Sun? Isn’t that outside the water?’

‘Why do you have to question everything? Why can you accept that things are how they are?’ He is getting annoyed. ‘You don’t believe in trees, you don’t believe in the Sun –’

‘Gosh, Joseph I do! I do believe in everything. I just don’t believe that what we see makes any sense.’

‘I’m tired of this,’ he sighs. ‘Let’s just finish the food and get our jabs.’


I want to visit my father one day. Soon. Because sometimes, I think we have the same brain, and he won’t look at me strange when I ask a question. Everybody thinks he’s crazy, and people are starting to think I am. I don’t want to sound big-headed or anything, but I feel like I am the least crazy person here sometimes.

When I get home, I go straight to the framed photo of my dad in the living room. He has the biggest smile ever, and warm green eyes. I think he was twenty when this photo was taken.

I wonder what he looks like now – hopefully not too solemn-looking, like he was just before he left. He said goodbye to us in a phone call but it was very brief.


When I tell Mother about meeting Dad she stands still for a while. I get scared, because it looks like she’s stopped breathing. But she sighs, and then closes her eyes.

She says we can go on the weekend. She’ll call the hospital and book a visit.

I jump up and down on my bed afterwards, looking up at the ceiling. With each jump, I’m closer to the window. Sadly, I always land back on the bed again. The window gets bigger. Smaller. Bigger. Smaller.

The window slowly turns pink, then violet. I forget to read my book, and instead fall asleep when the first star appears.



The hospital is the whitest building on Earth. Lights are bright, everything looks metal and cold. I hear beepers going. I hear trolleys moving past. When we reach the reception, Mother’s hand is crushing mine. She has her hair all curled up pretty and red lipstick. The only thing ruining her look is how scared her eyes are.


The woman points to a hallway, which leads us to the Psych Ward for inpatients. My Father’s room is right at the end. My heart begins to pummel inside my chest, and I don’t know why. I thought I was excited. Maybe it’s a different kind of excitement.

Mother presses the button on the door, and after a million years condensed into five seconds, my dad opens the door.


The weirdest thing is how normal he looks. He isn’t wearing the white gowns or anything. He’s just got on a t-shirt and jeans.

Mother hugs him so hard; I think his ribs might break. When I try to hug just as hard, it doesn’t work. Or maybe it does. He begins to cry, anyway.

‘I’ve missed you.’ His voice muffles into my shoulder. He smells like Hospital. ‘Why didn’t you come to visit me more often?’

‘I had school.’

‘Even on Saturday and Sunday?’

I keep quiet and follow Mother and Father into the room afterwards. Mother sits on the small sofa opposite the bed and covers her face like she does after a long day at work. Nobody talks for a long, long time. It doesn’t feel right, so I say something.

‘Are you actually crazy? You don’t look it.’

Dad smiles. ‘No, I’m not. It’s just been an excuse to keep me away from people without jailing me.’

‘Why? People say you’re crazy all the time.’

‘Eden-’ Mum starts.

‘No, Gina. It’s fine.’ Dad stops her. ‘What do they say?’

‘They say you think that there’s more than this world. Is that true? Because I do.’

He pauses for a second, almost shocked with me. Then a realisation settles on his face.  My mum doesn’t say anything. She keeps her eyes on the floor.


‘There definitely is. I promise you, dear; I would never lie. People don’t want to believe it. They want to believe in their own truth.’

‘What truth?’

He fiddles with his fingers, nervously. Then I notice the small camera on the wall when he looks up at it. I think people can see him, and maybe hear what he is saying. He carries on anyway, but very warily.


‘Have you ever heard of the sky?’

I almost laugh. What a weird word; it’s like he made it up. ‘No, Dad. What is it?’

‘Right – so you know how your bedroom has a window?’


‘That is sky.’

‘No. it’s a window.’

‘If you open it, you will see a sky. And if you get out of it, you will end up on another ground. And you will see everything I saw.’

‘Is the sky big or small? I want to know if I can take it and show Jo, so he believes me when I tell him there’s something more than the ceiling.’

Mother starts to cry, quietly. Father looks back up at the camera, and takes a deep breath.

‘Eden, we live underground.’ He says in a hushed tone. ‘We live in an underground city. A cave. It was built for us. But we don’t belong here.’


I start to feel too big again - like I’m trapped. I wish I could go to the Park, but it is miles away from here.

 ‘My great-grandfather lived up there. So did many other people’s great-grandparents. He was moved down here along with millions of people, when he was in his early twenties. The Earth got too hot and dangerous for everybody to live in, because humans had destroyed it. So they made this giant bunker, big enough for us all to fit in He lived life out there, Eden. And I want to. I want you to.’


Mother is sobbing. I feel like crying too. I think I was right about the cellars. Our world is a cellar.

‘You haven’t heard of Plato, the philosopher, have you?’ He asks.

‘No. Who is he?’

‘He wrote stories. We are the characters in his stories. I am the escapee. We are all prisoners. We don’t realise it, though. Sadly, we trust the reality we see without questioning it.’


That is the last thing I hear my father say, before the nurses come and hurriedly usher us out, and Dad’s tag starts glowing red. Mother is breathing heavily, wiping tears from her cheeks. The nurses grab us by our arms, and the Patrolmen storm past us, to Father’s room.


I look up at the ceiling, white with bright lights on all corners. I think about the window in my room, and I guess that it must be made out of the same glass that the ocean is made out of.


I wish I could find out how he escaped. I wish I could jump high enough to break the window. I want to feel the trees. I want to feel the sky. I want to feel the Sun, the ocean, the stars.


I want to.




Haven’t you ever felt like there has to be more? Like there’s more out there somewhere, just beyond your grasp, if you could only get to it?”





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