The world did not end in a bang or a whisper, like many presumed it began. But rather, one scream at a time. One that tore from lungs that were deep inside the planet and the life that it held; that could no longer breathe the air, that hung thick and hot just above the rotting. Stale and motionless; it grew sour with acid. Humans, being to some extent, creatures with the remains the instinct to survive, did what they always did: they hid. They built shelters on the remaining scraps of land, isolating themselves in ignorance for the poor and the helpless, sometimes, even of their own kind.
And this is where this story begins, in one of the handful of a hundred white-box havens. It was one of the many that were scattered across a desert of rubble and swamps of smoke. In a denser gathering of such, if I dare say, houses, formed a small underground community; which was later referred to as Surmdelair. The white boxes were splattered in rows, they faced each other in mute dislike, however, were connected in underground tunnels, in an attempt to maintain at least the ghost of a society. The doors and windows of the heavens were sealed airtight shut, with only small, circular openings for filtering in the deadly-poison air. In one of suchlived a small child and her mother.
Alya kneeled on a stool by the bullet proof glass window of her bedroom. She leaned forward on her elbows and pressed her nose forward and up, drinking up every detail of The Outside she could catch. Alya pushed further up on her small hands and twisted against the pane. She peered further up, despite having seen the greys of the crumbling landscape more times than she could count. And yet, she was fascinated by the world outside every time she saw it. Her fingers itched and curled to touch, feel and discover for herself, not for the fading pictures of the sky and earth as it once was. She knew she should not touch the glass: her finders always left greasy smudges and made it less clear to look through later. hat made Mommy upset. She breathed on the window and watched the glass fog up and blend the rubble into one smear of misty blur. She has always been told that this was as close as she would ge to The Outside. Alya had never been out of the white box she was born in.
Then, her mother came into the room and frowned at her daughter. “Looking out the window again, child?”
This startled Alya and she turned too quickly, nearly toppling from her stool.
“But, Mommy, the sky,” she gestured excitedly up and out the window. “The Outside”
“Well, what about the outside?”
“Tell me again?” Alya asked hopefully.
“I have already told you many times Alya”
“But I want to hear it again” she pleaded, detaching herself from the window with a slight pout.
“Oh alright,” she sighed and sat down on her bed, facing the window and gestured beside herself. “Come, child, sit.” Alya hopped off her stool and climbed in next to her mother,
“When I was a little girl, just about your age,” Ms. Esmond began, distantly looking out of the window, “I used to go outside and look at the flowers, and trees that grew outside my house, the blue sky” she trailed off, putting a hand on her daughter’s head in clumsy affection. “Sometimes, there were clouds and they would look like abstract shapes and I was silly enough to spend hours staring up and daydreaming.” Said Ms. Esmond. She looked at her daughter for a moment too long, and narrowed her eyes in consideration. The little girl was listening, leaning into her mother. Ms. Esmond could almost hear Alya’s mind at work; painting pictures of skies with rabbit clouds splashed with arctic, sapphire and cerulean blues.
As many parents did, Ms. Esmond had made up this story to entertain her daughter and give the child a clearing of hope in a better world. The young woman had barely witnessed the beauties of our planet herself but retold her daughter the stories she was told as a child. Thus, Ms. Esmond passed on the tale, because she knew, or remembered, really, how much a child needs a tale to believe in. However, this story was usually only told once or twice to the children, with just enough color to satisfy the malnourished, imaginative minds of the little ones, that were so often denied dreams. Alya was a different child. She kept asking for the story to be repeated almost every night. And when she was not occupied at school, she was often found in her room, staring out the window at the sky.
Ms. Esmond finally sighed. “You know,” she said, taking her daughter’s attention back to her. “I was going to save it for your birthday, but…” she stood up, walked across the room and to Alya’s closet. Pulling out a box from the top shelf, she removed the lid, took out something small, and hid it in her palm.
“What is it?” Alya asked eagerly, peeking at her mother’s fist. Ms. Esmond crouched down in front of her and opened her palm. There lay a small, blue, rubber ball. However, to call it blue would be to do the colors a great injustice. The sphere swam in swirls of swaying celeste and navy blues. Puffs of cotton clouds twirled around the small infinity of color. The whole image was so alive, Alya could almost see the white mist fly and shift around the ball, occasionally sparking tiny lightning bolts to life. Alya’s eyes widened, she had never seen a depiction more real. No pictures ever showed her the sky, but somehow the small sphere did.
“Woah…” she breathed and carefully, with two fingers, picked it up and held it up higher, into the light, letting the hidden sun dance in the colors like it did before, many years ago. Alya did not dare to take her eyes away from the hypnotizing piece of the sky, in fear that it would melt right through her fingers, into the thin air.
“Do you like it?” asked Ms. Esmond, trying and failing to catch Alya’s eye.
“Yea…” she breathed “so much”
“I am glad,”
“Thank you, mommy”
She smiled and patted on the head, stood up and resumed her business for the afternoon, leaving her daughter to entertain herself with the new toy.
Alya was mesmerized. The more she stared into the sphere, the more it consumed her; pulled her in and invited her to dive in. She rolled it over with one finger and watched the clouds reform into something new; watched the blues shift and ripple in a kaleidoscope of colors. Alya had fallen through the rubber and into the tiny world of the sphere, where the Sky was. The real sky that was there, somewhere above the clouds, much further up than she was allowed to reach or much less see through the window. She sighed. “Mommy,” Alya called to her mother in the kitchen “Can I go outside?”
“Do not ask silly questions, child.” She chided “Now come, sit, it is dinner time.”
Alya scowled. She wanted to go outside. And she will. Even if it killed her. She glanced back down at the little ball of sky at the foot of the bed; and looked away. It was almost like a cruel joke: “here is a fraction of your dream, so you know you can never have the real one.” Like this little Alya made up her mind, she was going to see, no not just see– feel The Outside. Regardless, she straightened her face for her mother. “Coming Mommy,” she glanced longingly at the small Sky in the Sphere at the foot of her bed and walked into the kitchen.
Dinner was dull and plain, as it always was. She rolled the starchy consistency around her mouth and swallowed with a shudder. But Alya almost did not notice the taste of the nutrient mix as she stared right though the silver-colored package. The food canteen worker must have scribbled on the name without much consideration of aesthetic. Or for that matter, legibility. There was some blue pen handwriting on it that she could not read, but she did not mind. Her mind was preoccupied with other things. She thought about the two air and watertight doors separating her from her dream; about what the air would taste like in her nose; how the wing would tickle her curls and brush against her neck.
Alya wished that trees would still exist, instead of having been burnt down for the sake of oil and money. She wondered what made oil so valuable, that it was worth losing the sky over. Shifting her gaze to the kitchen window, she pictured a tree outside, referring to the vague image in her mind from a distant time when she had seen a photo. That was before all the older photos had been banned to stop the little ones from asking questions the adults had trouble answering.
Alya and Ms. Esmond finished their food as usual: in unsure silence. She never understood or connected with her daughter and severely lacked children-specific social skill. Therefore, she was, most of the time, uncertain whether to start a conversation or not. So, there she sat at the edge of her chair and cautiously eyeing her daughter from across the glossy kitchen table.
Alya finished her food and said thank you to her mother, only getting a curt nod in response. She walked back to her room and closed the door, returning to her small portal to The Outside. Alya sat quiet and rigid at the foot of her bed, with the sphere in her hand and waited. She listened to the sounds of her mother cleaning after dinner and walking to her room. The door slid shut with a click, but Alya continued sitting. She tapped her foot to the floor. One, two three. And silence descended.
On any other night, Alya would be sitting by the window, staring into the gray darkness and thinking. She was always thinking too much and too fast. Her teachers always scolded her for this, because her mind was never in the right place, but rather always dreamy and far away. As Alya sat still in her room, listening to the silence of her world, she remembered with irony how her teachers would wish she sat like this in their classes. She grinned emptily. After she goes outside, they won’t be able to make her do anything, because she will prove her dreams were not for nothing. Alya will prove that The Outside is- she lost her train of thought and forgot the right word to describe the outside.
Click- went the lights in the hall. Click- went the lights in her mother’s bedroom. Click- went the lights in her room. Alya shifted on her bed and pulled down the covers, climbing in. She pulled the blanket to her chin and closed her eyes. Alya heard the air shift as the door slid open.
Ms. Esmond stepped in, and thought she saw her daughter tense. Perhaps a bad dream. She thought. Who knows what goes on in the little brain of hers. She didn’t bother to tuck her daughter in, and discover that she was, in fact, very much not dressed in her sleeping wear, but fully clothed. This would have risen some questions, which would have led to the locking of the front door and perhaps the prevention of what happened next.
Alya squeezed the little ball of sky in her small palm and felt the rubber push into her skin. The friction almost hurt. Regardless, Alya didn’t care. She was exited. She was going to see the sky, and maybe even the stars. Alya listened. Her mother had closed the door and gone back to her own room. And Alya waited a little more. She knew her mother always fell asleep quickly and slept soundly. Alya couldn’t see a lot in her room. Most of the walls were swallowed by shadows. The window was the darkest. A black hole, it sucked away the light, and she watched in grow bigger and a deeper black on her wall.
Alya sat up with a start. She unclenched her aching hand and released the small ball, letting it roll to the sheets of her bed. Alya, squinted at the sudden light coming from across the room. The sun was up. But how? Had she fallen asleep? Cheeks flushed with sleep, she realized she had. And why wasn’t there a clock in her room? Her heart picked up pace. Through the rushing in her ears, she listened or any sound of life outside her door. Nothing; she exhaled. Plan was late but set in motion.
Alya threw back her covers and carefully stepped on the cool floor. She scanned the small chamber for shoes. Disappointedly, she slipped The Sky in a Sphere into her pocket and slowly opened her door. The hall was dark for the lack of windows. The window from her room, made a white path across the hall, and like a spotlight, to the door. She listened again. Only the roaring in her ears and the quiet humming of the air filter. Alya took a careful step. The floor was cooperative: quiet. She didn’t know where her shoes were, but neither did she care. The shoes already went out the window.
Suddenly, Alya, not for the first time, was standing in front of the front door. She looked up at it: a tall, but stupid, stupid guard. She swallowed and raised her hand. Muscle memory put in the code and pushed the button. The door slid open with a pop, for it was no more than a robot, with no empathy or control. She stepped over the small ledge, in her opinion designed specifically for toe stubbing. The metal lattice pushed and burned into the soles of her feet, she lifted it up and looked at the angry red marks red marks. Alya wondered if they would bruise.
She looked at the second door; it had a circular air filter I the center. It looked like a shaded, sleeping eye. Sleeping monsters were easy to pass. All she needed was a little care. Alya reached up and pressed the button to unlock.
“Please confirm this operation. Opening this door may be hazardous to your health.” Buzzed a cold mechanical voice from above.
“Open.” Said Alya. And she stepped outside, into the humid morning air to see the sky.
When other children asked why Alya had not come to school in the later weeks, they were told that she was sleeping, and too ill to join the class. After two more weeks, the children had forgotten and stopped asking for their friend all together. The adults of the settlement, however, never forgot.
Based on a true story, sometime in the future… unless we get our act together.
Article By: Rebeka Mia Raihhelgauz
Picture By: Veronica Beckvard