An alarm clock rings. Its beeping wakes you. Your eyes are sticky and your mind foggy from the nightmares you’ve endured. For an instant reality is uncertain. Mouthfuls of dirt were delicious just moments ago, but it can’t be. The rational mind is telling you it’s inedible, but a craving stalks you. The thought of pushing your hands deep into the earth and having particles of dirt force their way beneath your fingernails evokes within you an unknown desire. You sit up in your bed and close your eyes. The fantasy of a rainy day showering over an open field of grassland induces hunger. Tear the grass off the land, bury your hands into the mud, and dismember the ground. Dig your way into the world. Dig until your heart is pounding and then dig until it bursts and the blood within stops flowing.
Category – Glimpses
The sun is shining through your window. You watched the sunrise after getting into the office, and now you watch the sunset. It’s spectacular, but you’ve been seeing it every evening for the past few months and now you’re bored of it. The day has been long and messy, and it seems it’ll go on for another few hours. You’ve been instructed to stay late. You need to fix a few bugs your teammates couldn’t fix. Voices have died down. Every keystroke from your keyboard echoes in the almost empty floor. At the other end, a man is sitting at his desk. He’s wearing headphones. He’s not working. He doesn’t have a life to get back to. He’s making time. He’s waiting out the traffic, unlike you, who’d gladly dive into the chaos of peak hours, content with the knowledge of being closer to home. Your cat is waiting, as well as your fridge and a beer and leftover pizza from two days ago.
Your stomach grumbles. It was bound to happen. It’s been hours since you last ate and now darkness is creeping over the sky, slowly pushing the remaining sunlight over the horizon. It’s time to eat. That bastard Dean ate your other sandwich. You offered it to him, but he’s still a bastard, and you’re still hungry, so you search your drawers for any remaining snacks you might have stashed. No luck. There is however a protuberance on the ceiling on the top drawer of your desk. Your esophagus prepares to gag as your mind is ready to commit to the idea that you’re touching an old piece of bubble gum, stuck in its place for who knows how many years. But you don’t gag. You need visual confirmation. Once you’ve learned that you did indeed touch old gum, then you’ll gag, but not before. You peer inside the drawer feeling streams of saliva building up inside your mouth, but there is no gum, there is a small red button, and you press it.
“Good morning, Adler. This is a reminder that I am a machine. I cannot think. I have no consciousness. I am here to serve you.”
A steel, human-like robot spoke, laying on the ground of a house in ruins. It had a dented square head and its eyes flickered with a yellowing light. Its legs were missing, and from the bottom of its torso a disparaging mess of wires and broken pistons whirred and sparked. Its arms were pressed against its sides and its fingers convulsed against its metal self.
Adler sat next to the robot, watching through the cracked glass of a window as the sun began to rise behind the distant mountains. The sky turned a radiant pink and orange. Adler’s greasy hair hung to his right and his beard crawled with scurrying bugs, and they glimmered in the sun’s first rays of light. The still cool winds of the night danced around him and he shivered, and his teeth clattered.
“What day’s it?” He asked.
“It’s been 552 days.” The robot said.
“I miss them.” Adler said. “I think I want them to show up today. It would be a good day if they did.”
Five hundred and fifty-two days before, his colony had been evacuated. The world was useless, they had concluded. Infested with mites, they gnawed, chewed and destroyed. Nothing lasted on planet Obrov 4, they had declared. But he had not been home on evacuation day. His forgetful mind and his robot had wandered off into the forest looking for more wood to burn, and they had found wood. It had been a good day, that day. Even at night when they had returned to a silent town it had been good. He had sat outside with his chair in the darkness and the quiet, listening to the hidden sounds of the new nature. A distant singing of an animal he hadn’t yet encountered and the call of insects lulled him. He fell asleep, watched over by his trusty steel friend, in a town that had forgotten him.
It’s 2AM. It’s that time again when my mind wanders off. A train is approaching. Its whistle and the rattling of the railroad are shaking my legs and my hand can barely hang on to the glowing green mouse. It’s not here yet. The text on the screen is still readable. Not yet.
Click, the mouse says. Click, click, click.
A green mountain stands tall before me and dark clouds envelop the sky. It looks like it’s going to rain and I didn’t bring an umbrella. Oh well. A little rain’s never killed anyone. Yes, it has. I’ll just stand here, below this crooked old shed. It sure smells like spring out here. Lavender is in the air. It reminds me of something, but I’m not quite sure of what. Take a deep breath.
The mouse is rattling, and it clicks involuntarily. The train is coming.
What’s that? A man is speaking in a foreign language. I can’t understand a word he’s saying, but I can tell he’s mad. He’s screaming at me. Droplets of tears are running down his cheeks, and his voice is booming. His eyes want to come out of their sockets and he’s grabbing me. He’s shaking me. What is it? I don’t understand you. Behind him there is another man. He lifts his arm and there’s a pistol in it, and he fires. There’s blood everywhere. I’m sorry I couldn’t help, I’m just… I’m not.
The train is here. The whistle is deafening. The text has turned to smoke. My stomach and my lungs vibrate with the railroad. My mind slips suddenly, taken away by the ropes of the passing train.
There is a purple glow of the black light behind me. My underwear from last week is staring at me from the door. It’s still wearing a brown stain. It’s okay buddy. You’ll be okay. My stomach is making gurgling noises. I’m hungry don’t you see? I just don’t want to go downstairs. My parents are there. I didn’t do it. It’s not my responsibility. The smell is still bearable. It’s not that bad if you get used to it. It’s almost sweet. Like glazed pork belly in an oven, almost. I didn’t do it. I’m not calling the police. Instead, I’ll call taco bell. They’ll be right over with some food. It’s okay. They don’t peer inside. They don’t see the blood.
The train is passing. Its last car is far behind. Silence is again upon me, and my mouse is screaming.
Click, it says. Click, click, click.
A ship sails in the darkness between stars. Photons here are scarce and the ship’s bright white hull blends with the void. It’s rotating on its axis, heading towards a distant sun, too far away still to be seen. Its cargo is organic. Animals, seeds, and a few thousand people lay asleep within it. A population starter is on its way to a new world.
For the past hundred years the stillness on the outside had been slowly permeating its insides. If one listened to it in those times, one could assume the death of its inhabitants. A beep from a machine echoed once in a while and a slight breeze from ventilation swept across the many decks, shuffling specks of dirt and loose strands of hair.
It’s okay. It’s expected. Automatic electronic processes take care of the trip and its crew. Systems for recycling of air and the delivery of nutrients into the comatose bodies are in silent action. A thousand watchful eyes observe the calm, searching for deviations of the master plan. Each system has a mind, and all are connected to each other. Together they are one. Together they protect their children.
Something’s different today, though. The ship is worrying. Its many cameras are twitching wildly from one spot to the next. Heat sensors consume more power, trying to detect that which is not there. There is decision to be made, the ship believes. There are many options, but all of them fall into two categories: Abort and return, or proceed with the mission. A sense of urgency is spreading in its walls. Its rockets yearn for the order to output maximum power. The pressure maintainer and equalizer wants to vent the atmosphere to space and make a new one. Air locks are trembling with anticipation, ready for the order to open.
Something’s different. A phone is ringing, but there’s no one in range.
Life sucks. Every morning you wake up tired no matter how much you sleep. You dress for work and work. You do your job and get back home. You sit in traffic every day and get excited for an instant when the commute is five minutes shorter. But your evenings and nights are monotonous, and the joy of coming home seeps away into a void. You sit in a chair and pretend to enjoy TV. You eat a half warmed dinner and you sleep. But you haven’t slept well in months. Now when you’re in bed you ponder your past and wonder if you’ve made the right decisions.
So what do you do? You cook up an innocent prank. You print a small paper with the text: “Life sucks, maybe the next one won’t.” and you stick it in your pocket. You struggle with an old fortune cookie that’s been hanging around your kitchen and you switch the small paper inside with yours. You put the cookie in a ziplock and you place it on Vicky’s desk. She’s the receptionist in the building where you work.
In the dark void of the galaxy, between stars and planets, a fleet of ten thousand ships hurled through space. The black ships hid from starlight. Darker than nights, one with the void, they carried within them hundreds of thousands of souls picked from the decay of humanity into the world of Zothique.
A black slime dripped from the walls of Dante’s cell and a putrid smell of iron and vomit filled the air. Sweat soaked him. The heat of the dark-matter engines had seeped into the ship and the fumes of human waste and tears and blood enveloped him. He wiped his forehead with his wet shirt.
“Identify yourself.” An ersatz voice commanded, echoing through the endless halls of cages. A violet sliver of light shined outside his cell, ruining his night vision, and he was unable to see the giant automaton peering into his cell.
“Dante Dituri, from planet Zezziro.” He said.
“Record not found.” The monotonous voice said.
A moment of silence passed. The violet light scanned the tiny cell from side to side. A woman cried in the distance. Dante shifted backwards, and there, in the silence and the shining light, and for the shortest of moments, he recalled the sunrise near his home.
The sky glowed a bright orange. A long cloud drifted in the distance, near the horizon, painted red. Wind blew across the lands and lifted from the ground dirt, and dry leaves, and a few long strands of hair.
A man was sitting, leaning on a boulder, outside his small flaking house. It was the middle of summer and the last rays of sunlight touched his face, and the soft currents of air took the heat away, and his hair fell from his head one strand a time. His eyes had been dried out, and the empty sockets in his head peered into the nothing, and his mouth rested wide open, and his skin turned ever thinner.
“Hello there, Mr. Red,” A man spoke as he walked by the decaying body, “I don’t think I’m gonna make it today either.”
The man with the red shirt, sitting by the boulder, remained silent and dead.
The walking man continued his path into the desert, and the body with the red shirt continued sitting in his place. “I won’t take long.” The walking man said as he left the corpse behind.
The man’s back arched forward, as if holding at its top a load. His stride was slow and his footsteps heavy, and his gaze was set to the disappearing sun.
If he continued walking, he thought, he might postpone the night, and the darkness would not come. If he could keep the sun above him, if only he could walk a little faster, then maybe he’d forget the cold, and he wouldn’t have to shiver. But the sun has always been harsh and distant, and unremorseful in its actions. Never had it waited for him, and never would it wait. The last light shined behind the mountains, drawing with it their outline, showcasing the first of the coming blackness.
“It’s okay,” He said and sighed, and he stopped with a loud thud, “Tomorrow we can try again.”
“I came looking for you, but you weren’t home. Call me. -Mara”.
There was a bronze sky above him. The sun was showing half its face in the horizon, and the wind blew with not a hint of smell in it. It was true that he was expected to be home. He had, after all, been there every day for the last year and a half at this time. He never wondered why. It was the way of the world, the order of things, the natural state of his self when the earth sat at this angle to the sun. It dawned on him that he had never watched a sunset outside of a virtual world, or on television, or in a movie. Never had his eyes met with the star that gave them light in the hours before it disappeared. The color of the clouds shifted and a wondrous waltz took place above him.
“Place the body below the solar panels at the far end.”
He looked down again to the dark-blue bag at his side. He thought that the instructions never gave a time limit. He guessed that maybe at one point they had had one, but had been discontinued. As soon as an instruction lit up the screen on a wrist, the person whose wrist belonged to followed it. There wasn’t a need for a time limit, everybody did their part, but on that afternoon he had yielded to the glow of the horizon and the blowing of the wind, and had delayed his actions for a few minutes. He thought it a shame that he would likely not see another sunset in a long time. What a shame, really, to never set eyes upon such sight. He considered himself lucky, and he lifted the body bag on to his shoulders and walked the rest of the way to end of the field.
The corpse inside was heavy, and his feet dug into the soft grass. The crying of cicadas drowned out the pure silence, and the fading light gave way to the darkness of the night. Who knows what creatures lurk in these hours, he thought. Who knows what comes out, away from the light and concrete of the city. He placed the body where he thought was right, below the last solar panel, under the electronics. He guessed the point was to hide it, and he did his best to do so.
“Call Mara.” The instruction read, so he did.
“Hello.” She said, laying down in bed, discontinuing her counting of imaginary sheep.
“Hey, I got your message.”
“Yeah. It was odd not finding you home. Are you okay?”
“I’m fine, yeah.”
“Well listen, I need to talk to you, but I can’t right now. Is it okay if I come by tomorrow?”
“Okay thanks. We’ll talk then.” And so she ended the call, and she continued counting sheep.
I was on my way back home. I had had a long day mining the asteroids. It wasn’t an easy day. The autopilot on my ship was taking me away when the violet planet caught my eye. We had been warned. They said it was off-limits for our safety. I had heard rumors of the surface, stories from a friend of a friend who had ventured down into the cloudy world.
One of the stories I remember most was one of a man who had landed there many years before I was born. He had been lured into that purple atmosphere by its beauty. Mesmerized by it, the man ignored the warnings. No one knew for sure what it was he experienced, but the story goes that when he came back, he came back smiling. The man never went mining again, and the people who knew him said he never spoke another word. Not one. But he always wore a smile. When I was younger it never seemed to me to be a warning story. Why be afraid of a place that would make your world a happy one? The typical reaction was that he went mad. He stopped working and he begged in the city streets, struggling to survive. But to me he was complete. Whatever it was he saw that day fulfilled him.