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Mateo Prieto, Magnet High School


     The young man, as he did most days, looked longingly at the world outside the solid metal bars in front of him.
    Oh, if only he was not imprisoned in this rotten cell!
    It was a detestable and cruel thing. It pained him and tortured him every waking moment. The cold of the cell floor felt like death, and the harshness of the wall he leaned against for comfort reminded him every day of the mercilessness of fate to forsake him to such misery as his.
    Oh, how he longed to be free!
    Day after day, he would run from his corner to the iron bars and yell at the guards standing firmly outside. He would call out to them, “Please, sirs, listen to me! I have dreams, I have passions, I have plans! I must be elsewhere, I must live my life!”
    “And why would you want to do such a thing?” they would reply. “That sounds like so much work. It is best that you remain inside, where there is no work, no pain, no effort. There is no danger in there, just rest. Lie back down, sleep, relax.”
    “But I can’t! I have work that I must start, there are things I must be doing! I will be in heaps of trouble if I do not finish my work.”
    The guards would roll their eyes. “Oh, nonsense. Go back to your corner, you can deal with your problems when they come to deal with you. Until then, just relax.”
    “Relax?” As much as the young man tried, the exasperation in his voice would always seep through his collected facade. “I can’t remain here! There is a woman that I love, but she doesn’t know it! I have to tell her, sirs!”
    “Oh no, dear Lord, no. That sounds like it could bring a lot of responsibilities and risks to your life, young man. That is much too stressful, you do not want to do that.”
    “I…” This particular time the youth collapsed on the ground, tired from the whole exchange. It happened more and more often as the days went by. He could feel energy draining from him every passing second, the strength of his youth fading away like mist.
     Through the small spaces between the iron bars, he could observe the sky just as an airplane passed. Oh, I could have been that pilot! he thought, and he began to weep. I could be flying right now, soaring through the clouds like a bird! He had always loved flying, the idea of ridding oneself of the shackles of gravity to freely traverse the heavens. Since he was very young, he had wanted to be a pilot or an astronaut. He didn’t care which as long as he got the chance to be free from the wretched ground. Throughout his entire childhood, throughout every joy and every sorrow, one thing was always clear to him: his calling was to the heavens.
     “Time for Exciting Explorations!” a mechanical voice rang out from behind him.
     He turned to face the inside wall of the cell. On it, a screen had appeared and was displaying the images of two men and two women in brown outfits running through the jungle. The youth sighed. Exciting Explorations was one of the many entertainment programs that were available for him to watch. It also happened to be one of his favorites. Despite his hatred for the prison, despite how much he despised its very existence, the young man had to admit that the entertainment programs were phenomenal. He loved them so much that sometimes he would sit in front of the screen for hours upon hours, just watching the incredible stories unfold. It made his heartbeat quicken, as if he lived in those feigned realities, adventuring with the explorers or fighting ninjas with the samurais in Samurai Sentries or colonizing and terraforming worlds like they did in Polishing Planets. The programs made him feel less empty, even though they reminded him of the life he would never have.
     The life I’ll never have, he thought, unless I do something about this, once and for all! The youth’s eyes sparked with fire, and he looked determinedly at the iron bars separating him from his destiny. No more! He walked towards them, resolute not to stop. The young man, then, stepped outside of his cell. This time he would stay outside, he was sure of it. No matter what the guards said, no matter how terrible the heat felt—
     Oh, God, the heat. Already, he felt his skin being scorched and burned by the relentless ferocity of the daystar above. Sweat began to drip from his pores, and he was already beginning to feel it on his back and neck. He squirmed rapidly, trying to alleviate his discomfort, but the movement only made the heat worse. The atrophy of his muscles shot pain throughout his entire being. At each step he took, he grimaced with pain, and his feet dragged as if carrying heavy chains.
     “Come back!”
No, no, no, don’t listen to them! he said to himself. Not this time, please, keep on going!
     “Young man, you’ll only find pain out there!” one guard shouted.
     “Wouldn’t you rather relax in your cell?” called out another.
     “You got everything you could ever want in there, why come out here and suffer?”
     The young man covered his ears with his hands. Don’t listen to them! Keep going forward, don’t go back, not this time!
     But he hardly had any say in the matter anymore. His flesh, tired, scorched, and uncomfortable, forced him to turn around. Reluctantly, he did, and he began to walk back to the cell. All the way there, he wept quietly to himself.
     Please, no…
     With tears in his eyes, the young man sat again in front of the screen. He wanted back out, he wanted freedom. But it mattered little what he wanted nowadays. He wanted to leave, but his flesh refused to leave the comfort of his confinement, for he was as much a prisoner of his body as of the cell. As he observed on the screen the rescue of a lion, he could only contemplate what a hopeless and wretched creature he had become.
     Alone, and after a brief moment, he turned his head and looked longingly, as he did most days, at the world outside the solid metal bars in front of him.

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