A return to your regular scheduled programming of abstracted science fiction. I really enjoy using surreal and uncanny ideas in these stories, but partly I feel like they’re becoming a crutch – a way out of an idea that allows me to work quickly for these stories (because, you know PLOT takes actual TIME). Something to think about.
The Sounds Above
Above, the creatures turn and tumble in their anger. It is thunderous; a cacophony of inevitability that makes the walls of our decaying bunker rattle.
I look to Grace. She sits calmly, wrapped in the thinning blanket of her bruised arms. The fear has gone from her some time ago, replaced by a cold quiet. I am envious.
Another collision above, closer. Dust and dirt flicks from the swaying light fittings and fills the corners of my eyes. I blink, scratch at my face, desperate to see. To see anything, anything but the dark – even though there’s only a few square metres of aging metal panelling and heavy iron door to look around at. It’s a tiny room, one Grace discovered a few weeks ago deep in the bowels of an old tenement building. Somewhere to outlast the thunderclaps when they finally came, she had said. We both knew, now, that she was wrong. There would be no lasting tonight. And so, instead we sat, without hope, and listened to the sounds above.
I imagine giant dancers, the height of buildings, carefully managing their slippers and tightening the strapping around their knees. They stand tall, look at one another, and flick their limbs outward to unheard music, gracefully sweeping through wide arcs of light. My eyes are closed now, caked in the mud that I can feel starting to enter my lungs. The dancers tumble and leap and the crowd applauds in the darkness.
“Are you ready to die?”
I open my eyes. Grace stands near me, head hunched over in the low-ceilinged bunker. Her eyes are wide, determined. But cold, and pale, and beginning to vanish.
“Is anyone ever?” I tremble. Grace looks at me long and hard.
I rethink my answer.
“Yes. I am.”
Grace nods. “Listen.” Her eyes sweep upward.
A deep bellow as of a great beast swirls through the earth to our resting place. I have never heard a sound like this ever before. I’m grateful, in my way. I must be grateful for something.
A louder rumble, and a crack. The sound of fire scorching the earth, of towns crumbling and disappearing into the shadows of history, to be forgotten once and for all.
Months ago, before the world was sure to end, we had been told to prepare ourselves for trying times. That when the beasts reached our shores, they would be relentless in their pursuit of a hollow end. That we would see terrible things we would not be able to forget, things that we would have to carry with us as we moved into a long, clouded future. These lies, as they turned out to be, got us here, into this tiny room, at the end of it all. We came here clinging to the future. I curse those lies, even now. They have cost me a great deal.
I would rather be up there, watching it happen. Present for something nobody had ever seen before. Witnessing the swooping wings and endless stretches of pockmarked flesh devouring the world. To live is to seize moments, to recognise them, even if they cost everything. Then, at least, I would feel like I was a part of something, instead of a cowardly man dying in a hole of his own making.
Grace takes my hand, and pulls my thoughts back down into the bunker.
“I’m ready,” she whispers.
I nod, grimly. We are all of us born ready.
The dim light bulb suddenly, finally, gives out, and we are plunged into a shroud of darkness and sound. The feeling of falling debris and the noise of shattering metal keep us grounded. We know where we are, and we know where we will end up.
Or, at least, I think I do.
As a dim purple glow begins to fill the room, I am suddenly not so sure of anything.
In silhouette, I can make out the shape of Grace, her arm pushed down her own throat up until its elbow. She’s contorted, misshapen, her eyes serenely closed, her breathing measured.
I clutch my own throat as I watch the flesh of hers bulge as her arm goes deeper.
She’s pulling out light from her stomach.
She tugs, hard, and her arm slides back out from her oesophagus, pulling the purple glow with it. The glow lights up her face from the inside before popping out of her mouth, a mouth that stretches wide to let the orb of pulsing energy out of her body and into the tiny room with me.
She hands the ball of light to me. It swirls, so bright it is almost impossible to make out its defined shape. It is wet when she hands it to me, slick with the juices of her throat. It is also warm, and my hand instantly begins to burn. I don’t let go.
The walls of the bunker begin to rumble, harder now, set upon from inside rather than from the tumbling war raging above. The heat from the orb continues to grow, and I can feel the burn spreading up my arms. Its energy shakes the metal and earth around us.
I look to Grace, and can only just make out her face as I squint through the haze of light. She opens her mouth to speak, but her voice has been burned away by the effort and the pull. So she mouths something to me, something I can’t quite decipher, but I smile, and nod, and understand.
My feet lose contact with the floor.
And I am warmed inside as well as out, as I know that I will see the strange events above me, will glimpse insanity and let it carry me from this place. There is solace in that.
The purple glow gets brighter, and soon all I see is white heat. The dirt is gone from my eyes.
Above me, the sounds seem much closer than they did before.
I listen closely, and hold my breath.
Words copyright Matt Vesely. Image copyright David Keen.