He holds the refuse in his hands. He’s no one special. A scavenger hunting bins for something to fill his belly. He doesn’t expect to find paper in it. Crumpled paper that crinkles a little as his hands touch it. He cannot see if it is fresh or used. All he knows is that he can sell it to a collector and feed himself for a week.
He gets money enough to feed himself for a month, and a warning to swear that he never met the chancellor’s son.
Rin unfolds his treasure. The markings on it amuse him. His elder sister Alaya studies written language. Maybe she knows what the markings mean.
Alaya takes the paper away and never returns it.
Rin swears he saw her hands shake. The paper and its contents haunt him enough to steal a reader bot from Alaya’s collection.
The bot reads out in its metallic voice.
Log 31. Year Nine.
“Close my eyes so my heart can see”
I can still hear his words echo in my ears. A half forgotten lullaby from when I was a little more than half a human, with the language still like a foreign taste on my tongue. An acquired taste. All I have after being transplanted to this house are a handful of possessions that own me more than I own them and words that wrote me more than I wrote them.
I don’t care if I have stopped making sense. It does not matter anymore.
The world has moved on without us and we will move on without it. The changes shaping us and not shaking us like the Earth that broke into pieces and forced us to run for cover that was not red hot magma that coated us in hate and molten rock. That was the last conversation Earth had with us before it wiped out half of all existence, turned them into stone cold sculptures frozen in silent screams.
“It was Pompeii with an expansion pack”
Grandfather’s breath smelt like death and smoke. Maybe it was the despair in his eyes. Maybe it was the newly forged burn on his cheek. Maybe it was the gaping hole in his chest. Maybe that was why my eyes were leaking like a faulty faucet. I held his hand in my lap and felt it grow cold. A parody. A lesson in irony.
“Humans are not that different from stars” He used to smile and say cryptic things to me all the time. Puzzles for me to assemble and gain victory over. But his last words to me were of the kind that you’d have to figure out for yourself. He gave me no explanations, just smiled at me one last time before he faded away, leaving behind a heavy body on my lap and a heavy burden on my mind. I wonder if he meant that humans are as distant as stars or if he wanted to tell me that the brighter we burn, the quicker we fade.
We escaped from a dying planet that wanted to drag us down with it into the embrace of a world we did not know.
The air is different here. It reeks of panic and desperation. Sounds like prayers unheard and it carries the names of those who did not make it out alive. The air is unforgiving. It took us two weeks to realize that the air was full of hatred. It burnt out our eyes with promises of revenge. The world was plunged into darkness and we stumbled. Blinded by nature, blinded by circumstance. Blinded by the reaction of the chemicals in the air and the flaws in our genetic composition. The next sense to be wrenched from our hands was touch. Some called it a curse disguised as a blessing. In 27 days Pain became a myth and hacked skin and broken fingers grew back like a stretched rubber band snapping back into place.
You couldn’t risk feeling anymore. The loss of touch made it able for us to stay alive for as long as we did. Long enough for me to learn to write despite my loss of sight. There was nothing more to do on this planet. You had to throw yourself into an art and make sure it put your emotions to use. Because if you didn’t, they’d burst out of you.
Just like mother.
I haven’t written about mother, because it is all too fresh in my mind. It has been bubbling in my chest for days. I need to let it out. I’m running out of time anyway. It does not matter where death comes from: by my own hand or by another’s. Choice is a rare commodity in a society built on paranoia. Paper is the only thing I have. The people in my house are as blind as me and they won’t know I’ve broken the law. The law that says you do not look back. Remembrance is a way that leads to ruin. But I cannot hold it in anymore and Paper listens. It was 4 daylights ago.
Mother started it. She did something no one should. Mother sighed. The sound lingered in the air for a minute or two, as if the ghosts of the lost wanted to communicate with her discontent. The cloth around what used to be my eyes felt tighter. Like the fabric itself wanted to strangle me. (I am glad we don’t have jewelry anymore. No one can survive the grip of metal around their naked neck here.)
This place is a predator with venom in its veins.
There was a quote grandfather used. Often. Over and over. “You know nothing, Jon Snow.” I wonder if this is what Jon Snow felt like I did. Stepping in ice. Living in a black hole.
But knowing nothing was a threat and a comfort all at once.
Because Knowing means Familiarity
Familiarity means Attachments
Attachments lead to Loss.
And Loss? Loss was what would make your blood turn into acid, eating you up from the inside out. Your heart would be saved for last. Something about poetic and ironic.
I tried to tell mother to do something. Cook. Clean. Busy her mind. Mother sighed again. The sound stayed longer. Longer than then it was healthy.
“This is not the same place as home.” Mother let out a high pitched sound. (A wail, someone’s horrified whisper informed me later. When the government workers came and cleaned up her remains.)
I took all of my will to not scream then, for if I had, I would dissolve too, just like Mother did. I could tell from her loud screeching. The sound of her body melting into the ground.
Mother was just a word now, not a person anymore. Mother was as dead as the civilization on planet earth.
This place sniffs out fear like a bloodhound, uses the chemicals in your own blood to turn against you. Survival for more than 10 years is a legend if you were not born here like the generation that came after me.
My ten years are almost up.
People like me, people who came from the dust, destruction and despair of the nuclear aftermath are a little more than constant parasites to the society. Blind, dependent and dangerous relics. So they keep us in plastic cages. There to look at. Living, breathing warning signs that last for ten years before they drop dead. No one knows how.
The ones that were born here can look at us, point and yell at us. But they are not allowed to touch us.
“Careful now. Emotions are contagious” the voice is high pitched.
I tried to guess the age. A child. No more than 9 perhaps. With a vacuum for the place his emotions should be.
And then, it started.
I could feel a tear in my heart. A burn in my lungs. I am certain if I had eyes they would be stinging. The air smells sour. Like licorice. Candy. Taffy and salt water air. The carnival and the noise. The burn spread to my fingers, slowly. Reintroducing the concept of pain and what it felt like to my numb body.
Nostalgia will be the death of me. They’ll find what’s left of me like this. These words. These memories. And the warning I have to those who can only read it.
The air is not poison. We made it. And if you can, please shut it down. Please.
If you can read this, know that you are not the chosen one unless you choose to be. If the burden makes you feel, pass it on to someone without the memory of panic. Disintegration hurts too much if you know too much. I’ll be a pile of bones on the floor after the soil swallows my flesh.
You? You are still breathing. You deserve a better life. Not the one they are offering you. Not the lies they are selling you. I have nothing to gain from hiding the truth. You have everything to lose.
My words might sound sentimental; delusions of a dying person. They want you to believe it so they can control you. Do not let them. They’ve ruined Earth. They will ruin this world unless you do someth——————————————————————————.
The bot’s screech makes Rin tremble. He is not supposed to feel.
No one is.
by Aadishree Dixit
(This story won the Ink Blot creative writing event held by Words’ Worth at Fergusson College, Pune, in association with Pseudo Mag)