There was born among the Yemars a beautiful baby named Filla. Filla grew up into a young girl who was kind and courageous and had a strength about her that inspired awe in all who saw her. Though she was but a small child. The Yemars loved her as they loved all their children. They held hope in her as they held hope in all their children. They were awed by her as they were awed by all their children.
But the Uzras heard about Filla. And they thought that the Yemars were raising her to go to war against them. The Uzras could not have Filla become a great soldier in a war against them. And so they went out and gathered Filla and brought her away from her mothers to live with them.
The Yemars tried on many occasions to get her back. But they could not.
And so Filla grew into a young woman surrounded by the Uzras. And she smiled secretively. And though the Uzras thought her tamed, they felt a sense of great fear whenever she gave them one of her sharp-edged smiles.
Meanwhile in the lands of the Yemars, there were two lovers. Firik was a lightning Yemar, at one with the lightning. And Fiall was a leaf Yemar, at one with the leaves. Firik supported and helped Fiall with whatever she wanted to do and she in turn inspired and amazed him.
Lightning struck a dry and wilting, dying forest. It breathed new life into the dead wood and the forest of the area started growing anew. The couple had three children together. Pres, Nolvi, and Mamon.
Pres was a boy, Nolvi was a girl, and Mamon was someone who changed genders all the time, sometimes a boy, sometimes a girl, sometimes in-between, sometimes both, and sometimes neither.
All three children were deeply loved by their parents and by their community. The community did everything they could to give them a childhood, though they had to live with the harshness and the cruelty of life as a Yemar. And so they grew up with many friends.
So now we will talk about that daughter Karkion had with the Yemarian woman.
Let it be known that the Yemars and the Uzras had different ways of transmitting inheritance. For the Yemars, a daughter inherited from her mother and a son inherited from his father. I do not know what would happen if a child had no parent that was the same gender as them, but I suppose there is a system. The Uzras, on the other hand, only inherited from their fathers. This daughter then, would be a Yemar by Yemarian standards, since her mother was Yemarian. But she would be an Uzra by Uzra standards, since her father was Uzra.
Now Karkion wanted to raise the daughter as Uzra. So he took her away from her mother and placed her in the halls of the Uzras. She was made to forget the Yemars and that entire side of her identity. But she always remembered her mother. And she refused to forget.
Because she refused to forget where she came from, the Uzras mistreated her and hurt her harshly and without remorse.
It was at this time than a young Mamon was also brought from their own family to the holdings of the Uzras, to act as a servant there. So Mamon and Karkion's daughter were together struggling and suffering amongst the Uzras. They were missing their families dearly. And they became strongly devoted friends. The girl told them her true name, the name her mother had given her. The name the Urzas did not call her.
She was named Naia
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“Hey. Hey. Wake up.” I shake Zindagee gently from over her covers.
“What? What is it?” Her voice is laden with sleepiness.
“Come into mine and Maggie’s room, we have to tell you something. Be quiet. Don’t let anyone hear.” My hushed voice is barely audible.
“Why? What is it?”
“It’s a mystery.”
She makes her way out the door while I climb up to wake up Aisha.
“Aisha. Dude. Wake up. Wake up.”
“I have something important to tell you.”
One by one Maggie and I wake up everyone. And we send them all to our room. Thankfully, they’re all quiet. Everyone is quiet. They go through the glowing halls without alerting any of the people who are supposed to be keeping an eye on us.
Eventually there are twenty girls crowded onto the bottom bunk of our bunk bed. I can barely make anyone out amidst the shadows. But I squeeze against Lumina towards the edge of the bed.
Maggie recalls her story first, voice breaking as she cries her way through all the experiences and emotions that broke her and formed her and made her who she is. The other girls don’t understand it at first. Just like I didn’t understand it at first. But slowly, surely, they come around. They feel Maggie’s pain and her love and her restlessness and her yearning.
“A thing like that, it could really teach you a lot of things,” Ishani comments.
“I’m sorry you had to go through that, Maggie, you deserve better,” Valentina comforts.
“I know. But it taught me so much. I don’t think I ever could’ve gotten truly close to my brother if he hadn’t died.” There is anguish in Maggie’s voice, but there is also a strange sense of gratitude.
“I … I think I understand.” Bik’s words are subdued and thoughtful, almost like a lullaby in the nighttime.
“But Maggie,” Cara speaks solemnly, “How can we help you get over this?”
“I don’t need to get over this,” Maggie replies, “I need to keep the memory with me always. It set me free. It set me free and I have to honour my brother and all he did for me and all he gave me. I have to honour him by setting all of you free as well.”
“But they won’t let us be,” Chin points out. “They brought us here, and they’ll keep us here, and we won’t be free.”
“No,” Nora opposes, “we have to take freedom. We have to take freedom however we can, with whatever means necessary.”
“But is it really so bad here?” Lavinia’s voice is unsure. She isn’t fully brought over to our side yet.
And so I tell them my story. I tell it from the beginning, from finding that notebook in my school hallways. I talk about all the alienation, the disillusionment, the entrapment that I felt. I talk about how superficial and hollow I saw everything as. I talk about how I was ever so determined to get free.
I talk about the nights and days I spent roaming the hidden alleyways of the city. I talk about all the thoughts I thought, all the emotions I felt.
Everything I experienced. I talk about the strangeness and the familiarity that overtook everything then. About how purposeful and wandering I was. I talk about the wind on my arms and the dryness in my throat. And I talk about how I just kept going, how everything inside of me was calling out to me to keep going, how everything around me was singing the same song.
I talk about how at the forge of death, at last, for the first time in my life I felt like I was a part of something. For the first time in my life I felt wanted. For the first time in my life I felt like I belonged. I talk about how I lost myself entirely and how I was more myself than I ever had been. And I talk about how I was one with the wind and the cold and the sky.
I end with the story of how I was taken in chains to the hospital, and had my mind drilled into against my will.
“So what are your guys’ stories?” I ask the girls gathered all around me, straining to listen.
One by one they all take turns remembering what they can from their past, from their time before the rehabilitation centre. Their memories come in bits and pieces, but all of their memories come back, eventually.
Nora was a runaway, living on the streets and begging for food and water. She had been there for two or three years. It was a hard life, it was a hungry life, it was a life full of need and want and glaring violence. She often did not know how she would keep on going, keep on making it through. But she says that it was a better life than the one she had lived before, a life in the lap of luxury. Eventually the police found her, and they took her to the hospital, screaming all the way.
Nora was a lot braver than I ever could be. She is brave. She is bold. But most importantly she’s good, so good. Much better than I ever could be.
Delores got into a fight with her mother and father about what she wanted in her life. They were insisting that she go to preparatory school, which would be a tightly regimented and closely surveilled thing just as the rehabilitation centre is. She insisted that she did not want to go, and the resulting fight was horrible. It was ugly. It lead neighbours to call the police and the rest is history.
I know what it’s like fighting with your parents. It’s hard. It hurts. It never leaves you. It makes you who you are. It breaks through the veil of illusion and it makes you stronger.
Labonita also ran away one day, just like me. Unlike me she was not trying to kill herself, though she didn’t particularly care about living either. What she was trying to do was go beyond the city, and find out what was out there. She kept walking and walking and walking. And just when she thought she almost made it, just when she thought that the edge of the city was close, the police caught up to her. And they dragged her to this accursed place.
I never thought there could be anything beyond the city. It seems to stretch every which way in every direction. I’ve never heard anyone talk of anything beyond the city. Labonita’s really creative, thinking that something is out there. Really creative or really hopeful. I hope she’s right.
Brigely tried to kill herself in a more concrete way than the rest of us did. Her story is a really rather ghastly one. She put a noose around her throat, made of strong, coarse rope she bought in secret and kept under her floorboards. She got as far as tying it to a tree, and jumping off of the branches with the horrible, beautiful promise of a rope around her throat. She remembers pain, incredible pain. She remembers feeling like she was drowning on dry land. And she remembers waking up in the hospital.
Brigely is brave too. Though I wish so very much that she didn’t have to ge brave. I wish we all didn’t have to be brave. I wish we could all live in a kinder world, where life and tenderness and joy were not things that were forever denied to us, denied to everyone.
Zeinab once stopped talking. She stopped talking entirely. She didn’t talk to her parents, or her classmates, or her teachers, or her counsellors. She tells us that she just didn’t see the point of it anymore. That every time she time used to talk, no one would listen, no one would understand, no-one would try to see it from her point of view. And so one day she just gave up. She tells us about how lonely she felt, how forlorn. How she clawed and bit when the police came to take her away. How she fought them with everything her small body had. How she could not win against their superior forces.
It paints a really disturbing picture, seeing her there with a swarm of police officers, fighting with violence unbecoming of any human being, yet silent through it all. It paints a grim picture but it’s a picture I can understand too well. Disturbingly well. Beautifully well. Magnificently well.
Zindagee used to cut herself. She would do it all the time. She said that watching the blood pour out of her body was one of the only ways she could make herself feel alive. One day her parents found out. They found her sitting in her room, in a pool of her own blood. And they started yelling at her, screaming at her, berating her, condemning her. She pleaded with them, promised that she’d stop, promised that she’d do anything as long as they don’t call the police. But they did call the police. And that’s that.
I cringe at thinking of the pain she must have been going through. Must have gone through for so long. To sit in a pool of her own blood. She must have really been desperate. But it’s a desperation that I can understand. It’s a desperation that we all can understand.
Lumina jumped into the river cutting through the city. She knew how to swim but she also knew that no-one could swim forever. She did not know if she was trying to kill herself or if she was trying to get away from the city. She didn’t know what she was doing. All she knew was that the river seemed to be calling to her. And so she answered its call. She was down there in the frozen waters and rushing currents for hours and hours, until the sky turned from dark to light. But eventually she was fished out with cutting wire nets and now she’s here.
I also often felt called to the river. In all the artificiality of all the city, the river seems somehow just a little bit more real than everything around it. It feels like the tiniest spark of an oasis.
Lavinia wasn’t a martyr like the rest of us were. She was simply a writer. But no, that’s not true either. Writers are fantastical and imaginative and polished. They make great stories with grand words. That was not what Lavinia was trying to do at all. She was simply a girl writing in a notebook. She was writing in a notebook similar to the notebook I once found, the one that had started everything for me. Unbeknownst to her, her teacher was looking over her shoulder watching her write. And that was what lead to her coming here.
I ask her if she was able to save the notebook. She looks at me sadly and confesses that she wasn’t. I tell her that it’s okay, she’s sharing the contents of it with all of us right now, and just simply talking as friends is much better than any written word written anywhere.
Cara hid in a secret root cellar she found in the basement of her house. She did not know how long she hid for or how long she intended to hide for or whether she wanted to die down there. All she knew was that in the darkness and coldness all around her, dark like a blanket and cold like the water’s embrace, she cocooned herself and waited for whatever was to come. She remembers that she got hungrier and hungrier, and thirstier and thirstier, until one day she felt nothing at all. It was then that she woke up in the hospital, chained to the bed just as I was.
I think of how strange it must have been, enveloped in darkness all around you, so dark that you do not know whether you are awake or asleep. It must be unreal. But at the same time it must be so hyper real. It must be liberating in its own strange, inexplicable sort of way.
Avalon did the same thing, except she hid in the root cellar of a long-abandoned house down the street from her house. It was dilapidated and dusty and the paint was all chipping off and all the lawn ornaments were in ruin. But, more importantly, it was easy to break into without leaving a trace and the secret root cellar could be hidden from the inside by a barely-working control panel. She fully intended to die, Avalon. She intended to not be found. And it was a good plan. Very well thought out, but unfortunately the police have their ways of finding people and they found her.
I think of how she almost did it. She almost escaped. But even the best of plans made under the best of situations still was not enough to guarantee victory. Not when fighting against this society and its power systems.
Nocta’s story is a lot like Maggie’s. Except instead of losing an older brother she lost a younger sister. And instead of losing her slowly, she lost her all at once in a traffic accident. After her sudden and too-early death, Nocta felt like she had never gotten to know her sister, she had never spent any real time with her, they had never connected. This drove Nocta to search for the something more that all of us were searching for, so that when she herself died her life might not be a life wasted, a life without meaning.
It must be so hard, losing a sibling like that, all at once. When you’re not expecting it. When you’re expecting life to just go on as it normally does. But it’s probably less cruel than expecting it. Than living with the constant fear. Anyways, let’s hope she can make her sister proud in her life and in her death and in whatever comes next.
Bik had broken through the illusions society cast upon everyone. And she was determined to help other people break out of their illusions as well. She talked to people, to everyone that would listen to her, at her school. Tried to tell them that there was something more, something better than constant entertainment and constant interest. She tried to tell them that there was more to life than what was on the surface. But she couldn’t make them see. All that her very many conversations lead her to was frustration and further feelings of alienation. And they lead her to the police showing up at her doorstep one day.
Bik has a lot of confidence in order to be able to tell other people. I totally lack such confidence. I lack the ability to tell my truth to people who are unsympathetic. Because, it’s absolutely pointless, as she herself found out in her life. All it will lead to is yourself getting ridiculed.
Aisha had a small wood near her neighbourhood. It was a rather simple thing. But it was big enough to get lost in. And it was big enough to hold a clear stream of sweet water running through it, and entire bushes of berries. She disappeared into that wood, a few years ago. And she had no idea how to survive in the wilderness but she weathered the hunger and the cold, and she made for herself a life in which she was content. A life in which she could live. The police eventually scanned the woods with their thermal cameras and she was dragged kicking and screaming from her chosen home.
It’s strange, how Aisha had found some semblance of contentment, some semblance of happiness. That’s so much more than what most of us find. Yes, she didn’t actually know how to survive in the wilderness. Yes, those woods were too small to support her properly. Yes, she was hungry and cold and her health was slowly wasting away, due to the ill health of the woods. But still. Still.
Ashlee had gotten pregnant. Her parents berated her and punished her. And that broke her illusion of who they were. But, more importantly, she grew to love the life growing inside of her. She loved the baby more than she had previously thought was possible. She loved it deeper than anything she had ever felt before. And she began to worry about the baby’s future. She knew that the child would have no life worth living growing up in this society. She didn’t want the child to suffer through that. More than anything, she didn’t want the child to suffer through that. And so she sent the child to the next world with a large piece of wire. She almost died and the hospital sent her here.
I am amazed by her story. By the love she showed her child. A mother’s love. A mother’s protection. And to think that she would be vilified and isolated for such a thing.
Chin had climbed a radio tower one day. She was not sure why she did it, or what she was fighting for. She just knew that she lost control of herself that day. She lost control and she took herself wherever her feet lead her. And she for some reason ended up on top of a radio tower. She stood there for a long time, hands gripping the cold bars. And she stared up at the sky. Only up at the sky. It was a cloudy, overcast day. Eventually the police hovercrafts came to her, and when she saw them, she let go and let herself fall down, down, down. But they caught her with a net and now here she is.
I don’t understand why she climbed a radio tower either. None of us do. But that doesn’t change the fact that it happened. No amount of wondering or pondering can ever change the past. The past lives within all of us always.
Valentina also spent years on the streets, trying to get whatever money she could from wherever, trying to get by, trying to stay under the radar. The police never found her, because she always wore new clothes and acted like any other teen. She stole, often, and she was very good at it. She had to be, it was the way she survived. But one day she got caught, and though she fervently pleaded, though she promised that she would do anything and everything, the store owner did not let her go. He called the police, and the police pulled her into this rehabilitation centre.
I feel so bad for her, having to spend all those years on the streets. Having no home to go to. Not that any of us had homes. But still, just to have somewhere to be, to stay sheltered from the weather, that was important. And she didn’t have access to it. It’s not fair. It was her choice, but it’s still not fair nonetheless.
Ishani was another confident soul, who told others what she had learned. She had an assignment for her music class. She had to compose a song and sing what she composed to the class. The song she created was really a shoddy work. But in it she spoke plainly all the feelings that she had kept hidden from all of them for so long. Her classmates were shocked, and her teacher was appalled. He called the police immediately. Ishani took off running, but she couldn’t get far enough. They caught her and tranquilized her and she woke up chained to a hospital bed.
That was a noble attempt nonetheless. It was an attempt to share what she knew. Even if it was a shoddy, clumsy, poorly thought-out attempt. It was an attempt nonetheless.
Clara also didn’t know why she did what she did. Clara also did whatever her next impulse was. She also lost control. She walked into the middle of a busy hallway at school, she closed her eyes and covered her ears. And she screamed. She doubled over herself screaming. She screamed until her throat was raw and jagged, like millions of tiny pieces of glass had sunken into its soft flesh. She screamed until her lungs ached. When the police finally came for her she kicked at and clawed them. And she promised that she was alright. Though of course she wasn’t.
Sometimes I just want to do that as well. Scream until my body gives out on me. But the problem is that people would hear me. A problem that Clara had to face upfront. She was brave about it at least, and she fought as much as she could.
What we all have in common is this. We all spent a long time being completely strangled by, smothered in, the glitter and glamour and music and sound of the would. We all feel like it’s far too much and not nearly enough, both at the same time. We all see a hollowness everywhere around us, a hollowness inside us. We all feel entangled and trapped in society, trapped in our lives. We all long for something more with every fibre of our being. And we all can and want to sacrifice anything and everything in order to get that something more, whatever the fuck it happens to be. Wherever the fuck it can be found.
We all feel lonely, alienated. We feel as if nobody understands us. As if we have no-one to turn to.
“But we understand each other, don’t we?” Avalon’s voice is low and confident and kind. “We know how it feels to be each other. And we can help each other.”
“That’s right,” Clara breathes, “we have each other.”
“It feels like we’re a family, all of us together here.” Ashlee has a warm note in her voice. And a bewildered note. As if she’s experiencing something incomprehensible, inexpressible, magnificent for the first time. Though I am too. Though I think most of us are, if not all of us.
“That’s right. We are a family.” Nora’s voice is smiling. She’s right. The camaraderie that I feel here, the intimacy, the tenderness, the belonging, it’s like nothing I have felt before. I feel as if I am a part of all the girls around me and they are a part of me. I feel like we owe each other, and we can relax around each other. I feel like life finally has something good in it.
“We should keep in contact after this whole thing is over. We should share each other’s addresses.” Chin is pragmatic.
“Yes,” Ishani agrees. “And we have to help each other not get brainwashed by this facility. They’re obviously trying to indoctrinate us.”
“I thought that these last few days were fun,” Nocta’s voice is drenched in piercing anxiety, “but thinking back on them with open eyes, with a clear mind, they feel so hollow.”
We all voice our agreements with her in a messy chorus.
“We should meet up here each night,” Delores suggests, “and talk about our pasts and our futures. Help each other to remember.”
We also all agree with Delores. That’s an amazing plan. Maybe, together, if we all help each other, we can all get through this. And we can get through whatever comes after.
“But why was it so easy for them to brainwash us in the first place?” Bik asks.
“Because,” Valentina answers, “they literally washed our brains. Remember when they drilled that needle through our skulls? That must have done something to stop the natural flow of our minds.”
Damn. She’s so right.
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There was a void in the space of the existence. And on one side of the void, there was a great, bright heat. Like the summer sun. On the other side of the void was a great, cold darkness. Like a winter night. The bright heat and the cold darkness reached out. And in the middle, they crashed against each other. They swirled and mingled.
But it wasn’t truly bright heat. And it wasn’t truly dark darkness. They did not truly have light or darkness or heat or cold in the way that we experience those forces. These two opposite forces in actuality were both love. They were love in its different facets and aspects.
And there in the middle of the void, where they met, they formed a being full of life and love and perfection. This being was Puri, the Great God, the greatest god that there was. Puri had all the genders that exist, all together at once. Puri was also love. Love given a mind and a heart. And with Their mind and heart They loved all Their children. For Puri was the Parent of all Their children.
Nature was part of Puri. The mountains and valleys. The rivers and streams. The oceans and deserts. The forests and fields. The plains and hills. The tropics and tundras. The caves and cliff-sides. It was all part of Puri. It was all alive with the spark of life. It was all alive with the spark of love. And it was all Puri.
From the waters that came forth from Puri there came the first people. These were the Yemars. The Yemars were a wild people. They were closely connected to the rivers and the rain and the clouds and the sky. They were closely connected to the earth and the rocks and the woods and the grasses and the leaves. They were closely connected to the ice and the snow and the heat and the fire. They were one with nature. And they lived amongst nature. Free. Wild.
Each Yemar had a different aspect of nature that they came to embody, that came to define them. Some Yemars were one with different animals. Some were one with different elements. Some were one with different geographic features. Some were one with different seasons. Some were one with different plants. And so on. There was also a specific subset of Yemars called the Tzimars. They were divided into two groups. The Tzimars of light and the Tzimars of darkness, both being equal and balancing the Yemarian society.
The world was run by love. There was no greed. No lust for power. No apathy. No exploitation. No hurt. And nobody took anything more than they absolutely needed. Everyone shared everything. Everyone respected their Parent, Puri. Everyone was different, and everyone was the same, and everyone was one.
Everyone was a part of nature, a part of love, and a part of Puri.
But such peace was not meant to last.
Through the fields and forests of Puri roamed a great yak. A yak that held great meaning and great power within herself. A yak that would bring the terrible future of all beings. Her name meant fate. Her name meant world-destroyer. The Yak too was a child of Puri. And the yak was not a bad being herself. But she gave birth to all kinds of beings. Some of these beings were good beings that got adopted by the Yemars. But three of these beings would go on to change the world. Change it for the worse.
Karkion was the first of a new type of being. This type of being was not one with nature. This type of being was called an Uzra. There were three Uzras at first. Karkion, and his two brothers Hali and Moni.
They rose from their slumber and looked around at the world that Puri was. And they had deep hatred in their hearts for it. And they had deep greed in their hearts as well. They vowed to kill the Great God so that they could take over Their lands and Their children.
And so Karkion forged for himself a great long sword made of seething hatred and unending, hardened greed. With this sword he plunged down into the very heart of Puri. And from Their heart came a great flow of blood. The blood bled out over all the lands and because Puri was bleeding all the Yemars died.
But there were a tiny few Yemars that survived. They were able to hold onto branches and trees that were afloat in the bleeding. They were able to pull each other out of the tides and help each other hold on until the end of the flood.
After the flood there were only a few Yemars left. And they were mourning. They were mourning their families and friends and community who had died. They were mourning the people they had lost. They were the only survivors left after a great and horrific absolute devastation.
The Yemars vowed to rebuild. They vowed that their people would survive until the day that they could finally thrive. They vowed to be good ancestors to the many descendants who would come after them.
And they were mourning Puri.
Because Puri was now dead. Nature was now dead. But still, some parts of nature survived. Puri survived. Puri was dead but They also survived. They could still continue guiding the people.
The three brothers took the dead body of Puri, who was also still alive, and they shaped the dead flesh into what they wanted it to be. They made the world what they wanted it to be. They made a dead world in which they could live and build their empires.
They also conquered the remaining Yemars. They trod the Yemars down under their boots, and made them subjugated and servile to the Uzras. Because of them, the Yemars were fettered. They had to face great grief and much death. They had to serve the Uzras.
The Uzras built for themselves Uzra men and Uzra women. This was to be the new race that would dominate. Karkion married a wise and strong Uzra lady named Geyna. And together they had many children.
But Geyna was not the only woman Karkion bedded. He routinely went out to the Yemarian women and made them lay with him. And with these women he had many Uzra sons. One day he was with a Yemarian woman named Olaia. And with her he had a daughter.
But this is a story for another time.
Karkion and his brothers built a large path that could take the Uzras wherever they needed to be. On this path they enchanted a great many magics that prevented Yemars from using it. They entrusted Ryan to guard this path and to look over all the world and see everything that was in it. So he did and he reported all the truths to the king of the Uzras. And he told them the truths they wanted to hear. He did not tell them the truths that they didn’t.
What he didn’t know though was that the Yemars had a way of slipping under his omnipresent gaze. They could do things he could not see.
One day a Yemarian woman named Gylla was brought in chains to the palace of the Uzras. She had been defiant against them and had resisted them. And therefore the Uzras were set to destroy her.
They pinned her down to a post in the centre of the palace. And they set her rough worn dress on fire. Her dress burned and her hair burned and her flesh burned. But her body was not consumed. She burned and she burned but she just stood there. Tall. Unwavering. Alive. Smiling through immense pain. Laughing through her screams.
Eventually this fire died out and her clothes were burned to ashes around her feet. But there she stood with rage and defiance and strength in her eyes. And love. Love for her people. Dark skin almost glowing and entirely unscathed.
The Uzras were enraged. They pierced her through with many many spears. And she screamed. But she took each of the spears in both her hands. And she pulled them out. And there she stood, unpierced and unbowed and whole.
The Uzras then put her in a mound of dead branches. They tied her down and lit the dead branches. And they burned and they burned and they burned away. And from within them she screamed. But when the fire died, there she stood, cool and calm and collected.
One last time they tried burning her. With straw tied all around her body. The straw burned but she did not.
She told the Uzras that they could never kill her. And they backed away from her, scared. Gylla walked away from the hall of the Uzras in strong, sure strides. But before leaving out the door, she turned her head back and told them that there would be a war one day. And they would lose.
And so the Uzras were terrified. But Geyna went out among them and assured them that there could be no war that the Uzras would lose. The Uzras were the strongest and most powerful of them all. And they could even kill the Great God Puri. And if they could kill Them, then surely their power was uncontestable.
They did not know that Puri still lived, though They were dead.
And so they continued to rule the world with their violence and their greed. And Yemars were killed and captured. But the Yemars told each other secrets and whispered each other truths. The Yemars were one and nothing could break them.
If you like this piece check out my Twitter my handle is @FSairuv and I post about human rights, social justice, and the environment.
Yes, yes this is largely influenced by Norse Mythology. No, no this is not Norse Mythology. It really is not. It’s only based on Norse Mythology. It’s only based on Norse Mythology in the same way The Bifrost Incident or Marvel is based on Norse Mythology. In other words, it’s a complete bastardization.
It’s kind of just a religion I created myself. Kind of. I had some help. This is based just as much on fanfictions of Norse Mythology as it is on Norse Mythology. Some things I straight up pulled out of my heart.
This is not an accurate representation at all of Heathen religions and should not be taken as such. This is not meant to be a depiction of Heathen and Norse-Pagan based religions any more than Supernatural is meant to be a depiction of Christianity.
Norse Paganism and Heathenry are good and valid belief systems and you should do actual research (not this fictionalized story) before judging them. No disrespect to Heathens and Norse Pagans, they’re often great people and their religion is beautiful. If you want to learn about their religions, or about Norse Mythology itself, please do real actual research. This story does not even come close to counting as real actual research.
I have numerous fanfiction authors to thank for many of the stories in this book. I can’t keep track of all the fanfic authors I have to thank for providing me stories but thank you to them all nonetheless.
The Green Place is so green. It's so free. It's so wild. It's more wild than I ever imagined was possible. And it's beautiful.
The Green Place is a place filled with love. Filled with so much love. Filled with more love than I even know what to do with. It's a place where love rules all. And all I have to do is drown in it.
It's a place where all those who suffered from not having enough love in their lives are filled. Where all the people who suffered are given love, given freedom, given belonging, given joy.
But the living world these days is like that too. It's a place where people come together. Where love rules all. Where the all injustices are righted and all people are taken care of.
I didn't live to see the end of the war. Ari didn't either. I died after he did but we're together again now. Along with Elsa and Colton and all the many comrades who died in the war.
But the war did end. And we won. The whole world was free. Veritas was everywhere. So much so that Veritas wasn't even a place anymore. Now it's just a system of values.
The synths are free. Their descendants are free. There are no owners anymore. Everyone is freeborn.
And everyone is equal.
If you like this piece check out my Twitter my handle is @FSairuv and I post about human rights, social justice, and the environment.
I am awoken from my soft slumber by constant shaking, by a voice that keeps begging me to wake. I look up groggily to see the soft shillouette of Maggie as she hovers over me. I reach out to turn the lights on with a flick of my wrist but Maggie stops me.
"Don't turn the lights on," she whispers urgently.
"Why not?" I ask her through a yawn.
"Because I need to talk to you. And we need to be quiet so no-one will hear us." Her whispers are furtive.
"Why do we need to be quiet?" I ask through a yawn.
"Shh. I'll explain later."
She climbs over me and sits on the empty space in my bunk, back against the wall. I get up, and wrap us both in blankets. She gets out the tiny lantern from her Swiss Army knife and turns it on, the soft glow barely illuminating our faces, barely enough to see by.
"Turn your lantern up. I can barely see."
"I can't" she replies, "the light might attract Lydia."
"What's wrong with Lydia?"
"It's just ... she's making us forget our old lives. She's making us forget who we were. What we learned."
"Our old ... our what?" I try to think back to my old life but all that there is in my mind is a blank fog.
"See, you don't remember."
"I ... I don't. That's weird."
"It's not weird. It's exactly what this institution wants us to do."
"I ... but it's fun here."
"Is it fun here? Or is it empty? Do they just want you to think that it's fun?"
"I ..." I find myself unable to think. I find myself unable to criticize, or even know whether or not I want to criticize. It's fun here, right? It has to be. It has to be. "It's fun," I finally answer.
"Is it? Or is your mind going blank? Is it the only thing that you can think? Is your mind free?"
"I ... I guess not."
"I'll ask a more important question. Is your heart free? Can it feel what it's wants to feel? Can it feel what it's meant to feel? Can you feel what it needs to feel?"
"What kind of question is that?" My heart? My ... heart? My ... what? I feel ... something to be honest. But I don't know what it is. I don't know why it is. It's just a tiny flicker of feeling somewhere deep under me, under all the layers that have built up over time.
"You know what kind of question it is," she wisphers furtively. "Now answer my question."
"I ... I don't know." And I honestly don't. But somewhere deep inside me I feel like I do know. Or perhaps I did know. But I lost it.
"They don't want us to ask these types of questions," Maggie continues furtively, "they don't want us to think these types of thoughts. But we have to."
"Shouldn't we do what they want?" I ask tentatively. "After all, they know what's best for us."
"They don't know what's best for us. They don't want what's best for us. They want us to conform into what all the other people are doing. But we can't. Simran. We can't." There's something quivering in her voice. Something emotional and desperate and impassioned.
"Why can't we? Everyone has such a good life." My words are calm but they carry the traces of doubt.
"Simran, do they? Do they really or do they just think they do? Have they just never looked beyond the shallow confines of their easy, comfortable world to see the darkness that lies just underneath the surface?" She turns her lantern off and now all I can see is her vague outline.
"Maggie, you're making no sense." She really isn't. But part of me, a part so deep and dark that I cannot even reach for it, understands. It understands perfectly. Though this knowledge is at the very edges of my consciousness, at the line where conscious fades into unconscious.
"I had a dream." Maggie's voice is far-off, is forlorn, is almost about to cry. It tugs something within my heart. Something that I hadn't known existed.
"What did you dream?" I ask her softly, gently.
"I dreamed about my brother," she replies in a voice so melancholy it's almost calm. "I had a brother once. An older brother. He was seven years older than me. I ... I wasn't the sister I should have been to him."
I move closer to Maggie, take both of her hands in mine, and I hold onto them softly. We look at each other, at the faded, barely-there dark outlines of each other. We face each other.
And she looks like a patch of darkness. She looks just like a splotch of darkness, darker than the darkness that is around it. But she looks more beautiful than I have ever seen her before. No, looks is not the right word. She feels more beautiful than I have ever witnessed her as before.
"What was your brother's name?" I ask her gently.
"His name was Stephen. But that's not what is most important about this story. What's most important about this story is that one day, when I was about ten years old, he got sick. He got really sick. We went to all the doctors we could, but none of them could help him." She's truly crying right now. I can hear it in her voice, though I can't see the tears fall.
"I'm sorry," I tell her solemnly, unsure of what to say, "you didn't deserve to go through that. He didn't either."
"But it saved us both," Maggie vows. "It saved us both in different ways."
"He got to be freed from this horrible, suffocating world. And I got to see the world for what it really is." She sobs loudly, and I take her into my arms. I hug her. And I just hold her there, in the darkness, feeling nothing but Maggie's warmth against me. My entire focus is on her. On her sorrow. On the sisterhood that we share between us. And I feel like I'm starting to transcend something, like the glaze that was over my mind is cracking.
"I've got you," I whisper into her ear tenderly. "I've got you. You're safe with me.
"Neither of us are safe in this facility," she replies, fear bared through her sobs.
"We're together," I remind her, "no-one else is here. No-one else can see us. No-one can hear us. You're here with me. We can figure this out."
"I ... I miss him."
"Of course you do."
"Do you want to know of our last year together?"
"Yes. If you want to talk about it."
"I was by his bedside all day. Every day after school I would come down and I would spend the rest of the day with him. I didn't do my homework. I didn't do anything else."
"You were very devoted."
"I was a child. And my brother was dying."
"My mother and father told me to go out and have fun. To go places. To do things. To play with my toys. To watch films. To play games. They told me that I should be happy. That my brother would want me to be happy. But I didn't want to do any of those things. I didn't want to waste precious time entertaining myself. I wanted to talk to my brother. Because I knew I wouldn't get too many chances to do so in the future. So I stayed with him. And we talked. And we talked. And we just talked. And it was miserable. But it was beautiful. It was oh so desperately tender."
"I'm glad you got those final moments with him."
"I'm glad too. It taught me so much. It taught him so much. I'll never forget them. I'm never forget him."
"Of course you won't." I keep hugging her, stroking her thick, beautiful hair with one of my hands.
"Because, when we were just talking, I felt like we were able to focus on each other without so many distractions getting in the way."
"That makes sense."
"When it was just the two of us, without a whole bunch of things around us, I felt closer to him than I ever felt before. I felt like I could really see him. Like I could really feel him. Like I was really there and I existed and he was really there and he existed."
"That sounds amazing." Do I know what she's talking about? Part of me doesn't. But an increasingly loud, an increasingly powerful part of me does. Here, hugging Maggie, focusing on absolutely nothing but for the way she feels against me, and the way she feels in her heart, I think I understand what she was feeling there with her brother. I think I'm feeling parts of it now with her.
"I knew we didn't have much time left. And the pressure of it. The misery of it. I -" her voice breaks and after that she is quiet for many moments, her head lying against my shoulder. "I felt emotions I had never felt before. I felt a depth of emotion that I had never felt before."
"That's understandable." I say these words to her to soothe her. But I think to myself, is it understandable? I think that I'm coming to understand. Though I haven't yet. Not completely. I do not understand what she does.
"It's as if," she eventually continues, "all the emotions I had been feeling before were merely the reflections of emotions. They were only the shadows of emotions. The imprints of emotion left in wax. Like my life was in wax. Like I was in some sort of plastic case, sealed off from the real world."
"I thought I was happy before. I thought I was happy in my life. I thought I was feeling things. But I was not. I wasn't even living. I wasn't even living until the year my brother died. And that year, I felt like the ineffable, amazing, terrible, unendurable, perfect realness of the world had finally opened up to me. It hurt. It hurt so much. But there was also, there were also good emotions. Emotions I never thought myself capable of feeling."
"Like what?" I ask her in a hushed tone, and she is so close to me that of course she hears it clearly. Hears me clearly.
"Like love. Like joy. Like purpose. Like tenderness. Like closeness. Like intimacy. Like vulnerability. Honesty, passion, unity, belonging. Mirth, simplicity, a strange sort of peace. A strange sort of hope, even though I had so much anxiety. We both did. But we both shared these emotions together."
"That sounds amazing. I'm glad you got to experience that." I continue running a slow, melodic hand through her hair. And she continues to cling to me, resting her head on my left shoulder.
"And, even the misery, even the anxiety, even the anguish, it was beautiful. It all had a wonderfulness to it. It all was so deep, so potent, so terrible, so traumatic. So real."
"I can imagine." Or at least, I'm beginning to be able to imagine.
"You wouldn't believe what I would do, what I wouldn't do, to hold on to that realness I had just unlocked."
"It would be worth a lot."
"And then he died." Her words die off and she breaks into a fresh wave of sobs.
"There, there," I stroke her hair, "you'll see him again." I don't know why I said that. It doesn't make any sense.
"I ... I ... it hurt. And the pain was so real."
"I'm sorry you had to go through that."
"And what was worse was, I felt that, besides that year, I never really knew my brother at all. I never got to spend time with him. I never got to spend time really with him. I had so many years with him but they were empty."
"Meaning that my life was always so crowded, with so many things and colours and flavours and experiences. With so much fun and entertainment. With so much, so much trivial stuff, that I was never able to see through all that. It was always blocking up my vision, taking my attention, taking my attention away from other people, away from what other people truly are. Away from where my attention truly should be. My life and my experiences were so full of stuff that didn't matter, and I had no room to focus on what did truly matter."
"That ... actually makes sense." My words are pensive. "Like these past few days we've spent so much time together but I spent so much time marvelling at the marvels all around us that I didn't notice anything."
"Exactly. And I tried to get back into it after my brother died. I tried to get back into all the entertainment that society pushes on us. I tried to have fun. But I realized that it was all so empty and hollow. You must have realized it too. That's why you're here."
I think for a long while while Maggie cuddles into me. I think of everything that she said. I think of the long, filled absence in the place where my memory should be. Until at last I begin to remember. I begin to remember, not any ideas or events, but rather an aching feeling of discontent that I just know that my life was coloured by before I was captured.
Captured. Captured is the right word to use. Though I can't remember what happened, I know that I was not brought here of my own free will. I know that I had to be taken in by force, kicking and screaming all the way down.
"I wasn't happy," I finally respond.
"And you couldn't have been happy either. No-one can be happy in this technicolor utopia. Not really. They can just think that they are, and that thought is really on a very surface level."
"So what should we have instead?"
"I don't know. I really don't. I just know that it isn't this. Do you have any idea of what we need?"
"I think we need escape. Escape to where or what exactly I don't know. I just know we have to get out of here, out of this way of life, out of this society, somehow."
"That's a good question. I ... I tried to kill myself." As I speak these words the memory of those aching, delirious days in the winter cold come into crystal clear focus in my mind. And I start crying. Not from sadness. Just from an unbroken stream of pure emotion that comes crashing down over me.
And I understand now. I understand what Maggie meant in every single word she said.
"I'm sorry." Maggie's voice is weighted. Darkened. Empathetic.
"Don't be sorry for me. It was my own choice. It was a way to get out of this life and this world. If all that is left in front of us is a never ending stream of consumption and entertainment, if that is all that our destiny holds, it's better to just opt out. It's better to just opt out as soon as you can, however you can. I knew what I was doing when I made my choice. And I made a choice."
"You must have been very brave."
"I suppose I was. But it was all too much. All far too much. I couldn't take it anymore. It wasn't as hard as you think it was."
"So it wasn't hard?"
"Oh it was hard. It was definitely hard. But I felt like I was in a different world where reality was so much more raw and real. I felt like I was walking towards my destiny. I felt like I was one single string in an instrument so much bigger than myself. Well, metaphorically. And in the end as hard as it was, it was possible. Very possible."
"We shouldn't have to kill ourselves just to escape this destiny."
"You're right. But what other way is there?"
"I guess freedom is freedom however it happens."
"Yeah. I guess it is."
"What made you realize, at first, how fucked up all of this was?"
"I don't know, really. I read a book. Well, it was more of a notebook really. I found it lying in my school hallway. I don't know who wrote it. But it changed my entire view of everything, not overnight. But the more I thought about it, the more I noticed things, the more I realized."
Maggie is quiet for a long while, warm against my form in the darkness.
"We have to tell the others." Maggie's voice cuts cool and clear and purposeful through my tears.
"Tell them what?"
"About everything. About my brother's death. Your suicide attempt. How disillusioned we were with life. How probably every single one of us got dragged into this facility against our will. How we all need to get out. How we need to search for something more, something better, than this."
"Do you want to relive all your traumas all over again? Do you really want to tell this story again, to a potentially unsympathetic crowd, who might not care about your heartbreak?"
"I have to do whatever it takes to make my people be free. All of us here, we're all rebellious teenaged girls who are looking for something more in our lives. We're all people who searched for freedom before, in one way or another. And I need to make sure all the other girls get their freedom. I need to make sure they can all escape from this. Or at least I need to try."
"That's very noble of you."
"We always have to do what is noble."
"Will you join me?"
I think for a moment.
We keep as silent as we possibly can as we pad our way out the door and down the darkened halls towards the other rooms. Together.
I wake up to the scattered crystal rays of my spinning mobile and the soft music Maggie plays on the tiny speakers nestled in a corner of the room. I drift into wakefulness slowly under the unbelievable softness of my sheets. They're beautiful. They're perfect. The morning is beautiful, the lights of the compound are programmed to mimic the lighting of a real day.
I push myself out of bed and I change into my daytime clothes. I put on a light blue, flowing gown that has frills down the front and is shaped like a slender bell. I brush my teeth and my hair and am down to breakfast before Maggie is even awake.
The chatter down there is lazy and relaxed. And it seems to me like water trickling off of rocks. I go down and join it, taking a place beside Valentina and Brigely, a place I fit into so easily and naturally that it feels as if I am meant to be here all along.
Maggie comes down and I make space for her beside me. She has dyed her thick dark locks a metallic green-blue colour, and it goes perfectly with the mini-skirt she is wearing over embroidered jeans. Her hair looks so pretty. She looks so pretty. She always looks so pretty. She gives me a peck on the cheek before joining the conversation.
Breakfast is brought to us by the robots and we savour it as we always do. It's a mix of different sugary cereals in a bowl of heavy cream mixed with cinnamon and other spices. On the side we each have a tall glass of lime-and-orange sherbet. It's all so unhealthy. I'll have to do some serious working out after this. Or take fat-breaking pills. But it's all worth it. The cereal tastes so rich and flavourful.
After breakfast Lydia makes her usual appearance. She is dressed in a light coral, so light you can barely see it, shift that has long, flowing sleeves that fan out towards the bottom. Her sleeves and collar and hemline are all lined with soft-looking, smooth, snow-white fur and coral glitter makes snowflake patterns all over her dress, snowflakes that all melt into each other at the edges. Her waist is cinched by a large milk-white gem carved into the shape of five snowflakes, getting progressively bigger as they near the middle, tied to a shimmering coral ribbon that loops around her waist. Her plunging square neckline shows off her beautiful dark skin and on her neck is an elegant snowflake-shaped pendant studded all over with diamonds. Similar snowflakes droop from her ears. And her lips shine a bright shimmering coral shade the same as her eyelids. Her hair is done up in an elaborate braided bun and a single small braid falls down the side of her face, decorated with gleaming pink smithsonite beads. She is so beautiful.
"Good morning my girls."
"Good morning, Lydia," we echo back dutifully. We are all honestly stunned.
"Today we are going to watch a movie in the night. This is a special treat for you girls, since the movie starts at midnight and we will be able to go home by three. Afterwards, we will go to a late-night restaurant and order food. But before that, you have all day to explore the facilities.
We all cheer, bright and high. A movie so late at night. It feels rebellious. It feels so subversive. It feels like we are being treated as adults. I smile, and my smile is reflected back in the faces of so many of my friends. The excitement in the room is almost tangible and it is as bright as a springtime day.
We all set out in different directions, wondering where our steps will take us. Maggie comes with me, and we wander the halls together.
The hallways are easy to get lost in. They are all large and wide and arching. They are all immaculate and polished and gilded. They are all lined with all sorts of things that you could spend a long while staring at. They are all brightly, softly lit. They have an amazing ambiance. And frankly the whole place feels palatial.
We go first to the aquarium, a place where we have never been. The walking paths are small and round and twisting, carved into the aquarium, so that all around us and over and under us, there is water and there are fishes. Like we are in a long tube-like bubble of rounded edges and air. The fish are incredible, genetically modified fish with all sorts of shapes and sizes and colours and patterns, all swimming around together, with long, flowing, shapely fins. The coral as well is really beautiful, like a garden of flowers, all bright and blooming and genetically modified to make different geometric shapes and strange structures. We feel as if we are in another world.
After the aquarium, we go to the statue gallery. In it are statues made of every sort of material imaginable, depicting beautiful, heroic figures and strange, fantastical beasts and humanoids that are ethereal and elegant and plants that are tall and regal. They portray spaceships and planets with strange and intricate surfaces, and stars shining forth their solar flares and magnetic fields. They depict scenes from bustling cities and scenes from fantastical worlds. Different colours and textures weave together to make everything look breathtaking. The statues are huge, making us feel small against them. And we barely have time to take them in, we are so busy going through everything,
Following the statue gallery we visit the art gallery. Hundreds and hundreds of intricately painted scenes of every imaginable type are plastered in golden, shining, intricately carved frames. They take up every single available inch of the wall, and they even coat the floor from underneath the glass we walk on. It's like I'm looking into portals to new worlds. I tell Maggie this. She smiles.
The next place we go is the kitchen. It's not very beautiful but it smells amazing. Robots whir lively and busy around us, preparing our lunch so it would seem. They look very busy. They look very cheerful. But still, there's not much to do here. So we leave.
We wander for a bit until we find an amazing room. The temperature of the room is just a bit cold. Not cold enough that you have to put on any clothes. But cold enough that you can feel it. Inside the vast room there is a faint, soft breeze that is just enough to energize you. It smells of vanilla. The walls are a glittering, sparkling white. But what is the best part is the snow that is all around.
Now, it's not real snow. It's far too warm to be real snow. But it's soft and fluffy and powdery and it's cold to the touch like real snow. It also comes in a million different colours, each snowflake being an individual colour. It feels like you are in a rainbow. Like you are in a void sprinkled with every colour imaginable. But the shades are all light and not too garish.
The snow piles into hills and valleys and mounds and ridges. It forms a mini landscape in the big room. There are fake pine trees with each needle made of a different bright colour. There are fake cloudy patterns etched onto the sky. Clouds that look so soft and fluffy in all their different shades of grey. And our feet sink down into it as our skin dances with the faint cold.
Maggie makes a snowball and throws it at me. I laugh, and throw one back at her. We run all around the room, hiding behind trees and throwing powdery snowballs at each other. We roll in the snow, and we pile it on each other. We make snow angels and we make snowmen. Snowmen and women and snow dogs and cats. None of them are very good but they exist. We jump into piles of snow. And we exhaust ourselves.
After this it is time for lunch, and we all gather together in the cafeteria. Lunch is salsa dip and guacamole and chocolate fudge. The flavours burst on my mouth like fireworks. They twist across my tongue like fire. They leave me hungry enough to take seconds and thirds.
When lunch is over Maggie and I go to the carousel, made of many intricately carved horses placed on spiralling golden poles that shine in the light of the chandeliers. The carousel is large. It has a smooth, polished oak floor with many dark lines flowing through the wood. The horses are decorated with all sorts of flags and symbols hanging from their saddles and above each horse is a carved wooden plaque with a beautiful painting on it. The carousel is huge and the horses rise and fall as well as sway to the sides.
It's nice. Relaxing. You can really let your mind just lay there and wander at its own pace. And yet it's still stimulating. In a soft-bright, playful sort of way. I look around at all the horses around me, at their individually-carved bodies and their individually-painted plaques. I take it all in, and I let it sit inside me. I lean against my golden pole as my horse moves fluidly on its pole.
We go on the carousel three times. Three is a good, whole number. And it leaves us feeling satisfied.
Next we just take a moment to walk through the halls, taking in all the little treasures scattered everywhere. It feels as if we are walking through a palace. I tell Maggie this and she smiles. She agrees with me. She says that she feels like a princess. And I agree with her. We are both princesses, are all princesses, in these palatial halls.
We find the artificial forest, with twisting, bending trunks and branches everywhere we turn. The branches and trunks are all made of richly textured, finely carved bronze and copper and rose gold, shaped so perfectly that they almost look like real wood bark. Almost. They look much prettier than real wood bark, which is boring and dull. This fake wood is bright and shining.
All the needles on the conifer trees are made of different colours of shining, metallic material. They shine softly in the ambient light from the room. They look razor-sharp and I am almost afraid of them. The deciduous trees all have leaves made of many different colours as well. There are thousands of colours all around me. But these leaves are made of stiff, translucent fabric and are styled into beautiful, flowing shapes that no real leaves are.
There are glittering gemstones and jade and opal arranged into rocks of different shapes on the powdery-looking shining dark copper of the ground. There are colourful herbs and shrubs shaped into many fantastical shapes, blanketing the rolling undergrowth. They are artfully arranged so that each thing flows into the next.
There are little tiny coloured lights buried among the leaves on each of the trees, and they make the whole forest look absolutely magical. There are also strings of fairy lights webbed and woven above us, coating everything in a bright white light so that we can see everything clearly and well.
What is the most amazing to me though are the robotic animals and insects running and climbing and flying and buzzing everywhere. They are brightly painted in all sorts of fake fur and fake feathers. They fill the forest and are scurrying and hurrying everywhere we turn. They are not real animals that actually exist but rather strange and wonderful creatures of fancy that are pulled from all sorts of fantastical lands, with all sorts of fantastical features.
Maggie and I meander through the forest for a good, long time, just taking everything in. It's a lot to take in. Almost too much. But it's glorious to take in. And I love the feeling of absolute overwhelmingness that flows through me. Maggie loves it too. This is so much better than the boring brown and green of a chaotic, haphazardous forest from reality.
We wander through the halls again, and we come upon a long row of life-sized coats of armour, each intricately carved and perfectly arranged. They are not very historically accurate but they are very impressive. The long row stretches on and on and on and we can barely find the end of it. It's all polished so well that each coat of armour is like a silvery mirror.
We come to a room that is black dark, with soft glowing neon lights of all sorts of over-bright neon colours everywhere. The neon lights line a large play structure, being woven all over the walls and climbing steps and poles and stairs and bars and swinging posts and zip lines and gliders and slides that are everywhere. There are bridges made of moving, floating neon steps that are all disjointed from each other. There are trampolines with softly glowing, stretchy floors for us to jump through. There are ball pits with many glowing balls. There are spinning plates and climbable carousels and ropes that swing around for us to climb.
We decide that we absolutely must spend the whole day one day playing here. But we simply do not have time today. We have to see everything. And so we placate ourselves with simply looking at the neon wonderland. Looking but not touching. Seeing, but not playing. But looking forwards so eagerly to the day when we can make full use of the neon wonderland all around us.
And so we go back down to dinner, using the communal gliders that are scattered around the grounds for us to use. We get there in record time, and meet up with the rest of everyone. We talk about what we saw, what we did, how much fun we had. We talk about what we loved about each of the different rooms. We talk about which rooms we liked more and why. What we are planning to do in each of the different rooms. We talk about all the plans we have to make the most out of the facility.
And we dig down into the cheesecake and ribs and the creamy soup we are presented in front of us. As always, the flavours are perfectly balanced. They are rich and savoury and delicious.
After dinner we decide to all go together to the hot tub. We were all putting it off until the last.
Before going we hurry back to our rooms and change into our pick of the many swimsuits that were provided for us. I wear a purple bikini with frills over the top of the bottom piece and frills down my neckline. It has all sorts of coloured mirrors woven into the bright purple fabric that coats the outside. And the insides are so soft and smooth I feel like I am wearing a cloud. I quick-wax my entire body with the automatic waxer and then it is time to go.
The hot tub is in the dark, glossy, obsidian world of a fake indoor cave. The water is crystal clear and smooth and fresh and of course hot. So hot that it is almost painful. But it isn't. It is coloured with all sorts of different coloured lights embedded into the very walls and floors of the tub. The water feels like silk against our skin. We all sit down in one of the many water chairs that line the edges of the tub, made of coloured water and hemmed in by a special plastic that feels like nothing at all. All around us is shining dark stone. And in the walls of the artificial cave are embedded all sorts of glowing gems of all sizes and shapes and colours.
We relax there for a long while, talking about the very many things we have to talk about. We luxuriate in the bubbling, flowing hot water that swirls around us like a lazy river. We look at all the gems embedded into the wall. It is all very perfect. The height of luxury. I think I almost drift off to sleep.
Finally it's twelve o'clock. And Lydia comes and forces us out of the hot tub. We all complain but we get up anyways. And we rush to get ready for the movie.
I wear a fur jacket of a rich, velvety brown colour and sleek, form-fitting jeans. I know it's not very much but we don't have time and I cannot choose the best outfit possible. Before rushing to the car I throw on a copper bracelet made of many interlocking pieces.
The car ride to the immersive theatre is a silent one. The city goes by bright and glowing and ethereal in front of us. We train our eyes to the brilliant, magnificent cityscapes, taking them all in. The city towers over us with its tall neon-gilded buildings of so very many different impressive shapes, with its burning sights, with its pretty sidewalks. I remain transfixed to the world outside the car. Nighttime in the city is so very beautiful.
The immersive theatre is big and impressive. We each get our own gaping, stretching room with a single floating chair in the middle. The chairs are round and sleek. They are soft and luxurious. They can be moved whichever way, so that we can get the full experience of the immersive all around us.
I tilt my chair back as the holograms weave themselves to life all around me.
I get immersed into the world of the narrative. Just as I am meant to be.
The story is one of a girl who feels lost and forlorn in her twentieth century world. She finds a strange portal to a fairy land. And that land is fantastical and wonderful. The fairies look at her and they realize that she is their long-lost princess. And so she takes the throne, and holds all the power of the fairy kingdom in her hands. The dark elves attack, and they are dead set on plunging the fairy kingdom into darkness. But she rallies her people and she fights against them, winning freedom for her kingdom from the darkness eternal. There are joyous victory celebrations and a great feast. And then the story ends.
I find myself constantly turning in my chair, looking at all the different parts of the fairy world, following the action as it flows and dances through the theatre. The chair moves so smoothly. It feels as if it is not moving at all. I feel as if I am floating through the air. And the softness of the plush chair would put me to sleep if not for the fact that the narrative and cinematography all around me is so very riveting.
The fairies are so elegantly designed. They look both undeniably human and completely nonhuman both at the same time. They are all so beautiful and breathtaking. The world they live in is so well-designed, so foreign, so elegant, so unnatural. The elves look absolutely hideous and disgusting, but there is some sort of intriguing beauty to their grotesqueness.
The sounds of the fairy world, of the battles, of the celebrations, of the ceremonies, they arch and stretch through the loud room, flowing to my ears from all different directions, large and perfectly clear as if I am in the world itself, as if I am hearing everything in real life. It all sounds so good together, like carefully-planned music that also tells a story.
The pretty scents of the fairy world float through my nose, and the bloody scents of battle. Fairy and elf blood do not smell like normal blood though. It smells strange and exotic. The temperature changes subtly as we move through different settings.
I loose myself entirely as the story goes on. I don't even know who I am anymore. I don't know where I am or why I'm here. I cannot even think. I can only take it all in. And there is so very much to take in. So very much to focus on all at the same time. There is so very much to divert my attention to that it almost feels like I am not paying attention at all.
Three hours pass by in the blink of an eye. I hardly notice it passing, I am so wrapped up in everything. But at the end of the immersive film, I slowly fade back into reality as the holograms flow away back to where they came from. I stumble out of the immersion room, almost as if I am in a dream.
I meet my friends, and they look just as disorientated as I do. We stand there in silence for a few moments in the decadent lobby before Lydia shepherds us back into our cars.
I wonder and let my mind wander as I see the city go by. It's all so lovely. All of it. Love. What is love? There is so much pleasure to be had in the world. And love is nothing but holding on to all the many pleasures with both of your hands.
I wake up and I can barely remember my dream. All I feel is softness. Softness all around me. Soft sheets and soft blankets and soft light. I take a moment to just gaze at my room. And then I pull myself up from my bed and go to brush my teeth.
The bathrooms are made of granite, with granite sink bowls and granite taps and granite walls. It's calming. There are mirrors everywhere, even on the ceiling. On some of the mirrors are painted soothing scenes in expensive paint. There are little vases of flowers everywhere. The whole place smells like flowers.
I go to the cafeteria and I wander around all the tables, looking down around me and up at the ceiling. Around me the room slowly becomes occupied with teenaged girls. We make small talk. Mostly about our day yesterday. About our plans for all the things we bought.
Breakfast arrives and with it so does Lydia. The pattern is falling into place. The new pattern of our lives. The pattern that will be our lives for the next three months. Whether we want it to be or not. But no matter, of course we want it.
"Good morning girls. Did you all sleep well? I hope you slept well."
"We did," we reply in unison. Did I sleep well? I don't know. No matter I probably slept well. How could you not sleep well on such a smooth, soft bed?
"Are you all ready to start your day?" Her voice is bright.
"Yes," We reply in equally bright tones. But is there .. is there something full about our tones? Something dreary? No matter, I must be imagining it.
Lydia explains the plan for the day as we all listen quietly, looking at the forms that drape down from the roof. She is excited and happy about all we are planning to do. Of course she is. Why wouldn't she be? Why wouldn't we all be?
We are going to an immersive game today, and we will eat breakfast and launch at a fine upscale restaurant. This is going to be so fun. I haven't gone to an immersive game in years. I almost forgot how fun they were. And I'll get to play with all of my friends as well. This will be such a great opportunity to spend time with them. And I haven't been to a restaurant in ages as well. I bet the food is going to taste so amazingly good.
We chat excitedly as we finish our breakfast. Breakfast is fluffy, light chocolate chip pancakes that melt in your mouth, soaked through with rich, sweet maple syrup and lathered with butter. It's delicious. And there is a chocolate and red velvet cheesecake for dessert. It's all so sweet. And the chatter of our conversation is also so sweet. I go to brush my teeth after breakfast, with mint and ice toothpaste that tastes so refreshing.
I comb through my closet. Maggie bought me a bunch of stuff. She looked at the clothes in the stores and couldn't resist thinking about me. I have so many more clothes now that we got the chance to go shopping. I have so much more choice. And oh what bright and beautiful choices these are. Such bright and beautiful outfits to choose from.
I pick a silken dress that is made of thick fabric and goes down to my knees. It's made of swirling baby pink, creme, and light blue patterns. The light blue is the shade of cornflowers. Embroidered onto the front with shimmering copper threads is the form of a cherry tree and many three-dimensional petals are sown onto its branches. I put on a pair of high-heels that match and are surprisingly comfortable on my feet. I put on a fine silver chain with light pink and cornflower blue gems threaded through it and a charm bracet with many beautiful charms.
I do my makeup in front of the mirror. First I drown everything in a layer of foundation. Then I contour with highlight and bronzer. Then I add light pink blush. I paint my eyebrows a glittering light blue and I paint my lips a soft pastel pink. It's beautiful. I look beautiful.
I put on earrings, and an anklet that matches my bracelet. Finally I am ready.
Maggie is also dressed beautifully. She wears a light yellow taffeta blouse with a green and bright purple poppy arching and bending to the side. She wears light purple denim pants that are threaded through with golden thread to form a candy-cane pattern of thin gold lines. Her blouse is tucked into her pants and her collar has a bow on it, so do her short sleeves. She looks breathtaking. I tell her so.
We walk together, arm in arm, down the grand hallway lined with beautiful things. We meet the others in the large, green, neatly-manicured courtyard, that is filled with shaped hedges and bubbling fountains and flower beds and exotic birds with clipped wings. It's beautiful out here.
Aisha and Cara are sitting on a large, ornately carved picnic table with the smoothest surface I have seen in my life. I go to join them. And we chatter about our day. About the outfits we picked out and why we chose them. About how long it's been since we went to an immersive game. About how we can't wait to go to the game. About what we wonder that the game will be about.
I smell orange trees, and lemon trees, and lilacs and lavender and hyacinth and jasmine. I could get lost in this. I could drift away in it forever. I could live here out in the courtyard forever.
Lydia eventually comes down, wearing a golden gown that drapes down to her ankles in flowing folds. The dress hugs her waist tight, and there are many golden bows on her collar. She wears shimmering golden eyeshadow. All of her seems to be shimmering. She seems to bloom, a dark and shining flower.
She tells us that it's time to go. And we all file towards the many cars in the garage.
This time I sit with Brigely and Nocta, all round our central table. The car sways and music flows through our ears. We make jokes and sing along with the songs on the radio. We paint each other's nails with the bright red nail polish that Nocta smuggled in through her pocket. It's such a bright colour. It doesn't go with my outfit but it looks well nonetheless. Laughter fills the air. The wind blows through our hair. It's perfect. All perfect.
We get to the immersive game theatre. And it's a huge, arching building with many big pillars and a shining glass front. It's big, the theatre's big. But of course it's big. The big rooms inside make the holographic games feel even more realistic.
We file in through the crystal revolving door. And we look at all the large screens offering different advertisements for different games. There must be thousands of them. I am completely overwhelmed. I have no idea how we'll choose.
"Look through the different adds, girls." Lydia's voice is high and lilting, like molten silver. "We're all going to vote on what to play in twenty minutes."
"Yes, Ms. Lydia," we all chime back, snd it's almost like a song, the sound of all of our voices together.
I get on a hover pad and fly to many different game displays. There are games about space, about going on voyages through the stars. There are games about beautiful historical events filled with castles and masked balls and roses growing throughout the countryside. There are games about fantastical worlds full of monsters and creatures. There are games about magic with floating objects and sparking energy balls and bright magical battles. There are games about underwater exploration. Games about creating your own world. The list truly is endless.
I have no idea how I will pick. Every single thing seems so good. I remind myself that I don't have to pick. I can just be satisfied looking through all the adds and letting my imagination run wild. My friends can pick for me. Unless of course they have happened upon the same predicament and also can't pick.
And so I fly around, looking at each and every screen that I can. They all seem to pop. And I find that it's almost a game in and of itself, to see how many advertisements I can look at.
Eventually the twenty minutes are up and we all gather together under the huge glass wall that lets us see outside, that the sunlight comes streaming through. We discuss what we want to play. Zeinab wants to play a game about rising to the top in the courts of Ghengis Khan. Delores wants to play a game about discovering new creatures on alien planets. Valentina wants to play a game about exploring the depths of the sea. Lumina wants to play a game about living in a magical world. Ishani wants to play a game about meeting and dancing with princes in the olden times. Nora wants to play a game about fighting monsters.
We all take a vote. And Lydia counts up all the hands. Lumina's game wins by two hands. And the majority of us sigh but we are bright about it. We will have fun no matter what game we play, and this game sounds beautiful and relaxing.
So we all make our way to the large, gaping arena with high ceilings and we spread ourselves out as the arena fills with fog and the holographic images are spun to life.
The world is so beautiful. It's like a work of art.
The sky is deep and it is painted in dipping and waving stripes of every shade of blue imaginable. The sky is constantly changing and across it soar fluffy white clouds in many swirling and curving shades of white. There are colourful birds flying every which way. There are colourful insects bussing around us. It all softly shimmers.
The ground is also breathtaking, with large, thick blades of grass of so many different shades of green all curling up from the dirt. The grass curls and weaves into each other and blows in the wind. There are infinite colours of wildflowers with sparkling petals growing in everywhich direction.
Trees tower all around us, with trunks of shimmering bronze and leaves of purple and pink and orange. The trees are filled with gems in the shape of apples. All along them run squirrels and chipmunks and monkeys.
The world smells like thousands of rich, fragrant flowers of different types, all mingling together. Underneath that smell is the smell of freshly cut grass. And underneath that smell is the smell of something bright and spicy, something I can't quite place.
The bright music of different bird calls all weave together to form a background melody. Though I don't think these are the calls of real birds. They sound too perfect, too harmonious, too well-matched with the other calls. They sound almost-real. Definitely. But they definitely don't sound real.
The grass doesn't look real, the sky doesn't look real, the flowers don't look real, the clouds don't look real, the animals don't look real.
A deep feeling of dread courses through me and I feel a scream rising up in my throat.
Just then a voice comes up from all around, light and soft and melodic. I get lost in the unearthly richness of its chime. I forget all about my fear. I forget all about the wrongness all around me. I forget everything except this bright, shining beauty.
"It's time to gather the gem-fruits so that we can make our delicious gem-fruit pie! Go into the cottage and gather the fruits basket and the bow and arrows!"
I turn around, looking for the cottage. And it's right there behind me. And it's so unbelievably beautiful! With notched beams made of all types of brown colours all melting into each other and contrasting. The cottage walls are carved with all sorts of patterns. And the whole thing softly glows. The roof and the windows are shingled with different shades of red, are softly shimmering. And the door is bright red with a shining gold handle and a shining gold door knocker. There are birds carved onto its front.
Clara and I both go into this cottage. I guess she heard the same voice I did.
"Are you looking for the basket and the bow?" I ask her.
"Uh-huh. I sure am!" she replies brightly "We should look together."
And so we swing open the door.
The inside of the cottage is filled with so many things, hanging on the walls or arranged on the many many shelves or arranged on the floor. It's even prettier inside than it is on the outside. Every piece of wood inside is carved with a different, beautiful pattern and there are large windows with colour-changing curtains of every shade of yellow and gold mixed together. The couches are bright and embroidered with shimmering, rainbow thread. There are paintings on the wall that almost look like windows into other worlds. And there is just so much to look at everywhere.
We walk through the many rooms trying to find what we need. The cottage impresses itself onto us. And it impresses us. We talk about how lovely everything is.
Finally we find the basket, a large thing made of woven strips of orange, strips of different shades. It shimmers and glows and when I pick it up it casts an orange glow onto my body. The basket is large, almost as deep as my legs are tall and hard to get my arms fully around. Thankfully it has handles. The bow we find next. It is a shining gold, with silver arrows tipped with deep blue sapphire and fletched with dark blue feathers that shine like sapphire. It is light and slopong and elegant, curving softly like painted lips.
We go outside, and get to work gathering the gem-fruits. First Clara takes aim at the fruits with the bow and arrow and I run around under the trees trying to catch any apples she manages to hit and send dropping down. Then I take a turn aiming for the fruits and Clara takes a turn catching them. Soon our basket is full.
"Good job, girls!" The voice rings out. "Now it's time to catch the rain! Go find the rain barrels. Only catch blue and silver drops. Black and purple drops are poisoned, and they will spoil your whole barrel!"
We go inside the cottage again and look for the rain barrels. They are made of light blue crystal and are softly see-through. We go outside and instead of different shades of waving and weaving and rising and falling blue, the sky is made of different strips of silver-white-gray.
The rain starts falling, big, thick drops spaced fairly far apart, nothing like real rain of any sort. We run around madly, trying to catch the right drops and avoid the right drops. It's all so very fun.
After we have our barrels filled with good, pure water it's time to go into the forest. We follow the directions the voice gives us and find ourselves in a world of crowded colours and twisting, bending, spiralling branches and little animals running every which way. The ground is a deep, glowing red and there are strange leaves all around us. Leaves with edges that are traced darker than their middles. Leaves in fantastical shapes.
We dig through the forest, climbing hills and valleys, until we find the right ingredients for the pies. Bags stuffed with roots and berries and herbs, all in brilliant technicolour, we return.
And then it's time to bake the pies. We walk down the twisting path made of many round stones embedded into the ground, stones that look like glass and are deeply translucent. We bring the fruits and the water and everything else we gathered.
We take the light pink flour and pour it onto the countertops. We say the right spells and incantations and magic swirls all around us, turning the the ingredients into pies. The smell of sweet, rich, fruity and fresh baking fills our senses, making our mouths water.
It is at this time that we have to go to lunch. The holograms and fog swirls away and we all gather together by the door.
It takes us fifteen minutes to get to the restaurant. We grab a seat at one of the large tables right beside the fountain, under chandeliers made entirely of coloured crystal that glows from the inside, from light sources we can't see. There are rivers of coloured water all around us, originating from the fountain, and the walls are creamy white and buried under a web of dim strings of light. The restaurant smells citrusy and fresh, and the sound of bubbling water reverberates everywhere.
We all look at the menus in front of us, books made of many slim, tiny touchscreens bound together, shining elegantly under the light. There are so many delectable things to order. I have no idea what I will choose.
Eventually I set my mind to the stuffed lobster with cream sauce, with a side of Caesar salad. It tastes absolutely divine. I don't think I've ever tasted better food. I don't think I ever will. My tastebuds feel like they're absolutely dancing with fizzing, savoury flavour and I find myself absolutely overwhelmed at all of it. It fills me and leaves me warm and hungry and longing for more. And so I order another plate. And this plate is just as flavourful and perfectly-balanced as the first.
For desert I choose fruit custard with ice cream, and it is rich and full and just seems to wash over my mouth. It's cold and warm both at the same time. And the rich wholeness of the custard and the creamy lightness of the ice cream balance each other out perfectly.
For drinks I have a tall glass of red wine diluted with cherry pop, which I know I'm too young to drink. But Lydia smiles at us mischievously and tells us that we can buy alcohol. No-one needs to know. We all smile at her. I'm so glad that she's on our side.
After lunch we go back to the gaming studio. And the next part of the game is to catch one of the clouds that fly in the sky. The sky is blue now and the clouds are fluffy and creamy and curling. We each have intricately braided lassos. Mine is coral and Clara's is magenta. They are made with shiny threads woven through them. We run after the clouds as they soar by, throwing our lassoes up at them.
We finally catch a cloud and we bring it down, pulling with all our strength. We get on the cloud and let it take to the sky with us.
The next part of the journey is so exciting. We ride through the sky in the cloud, moving fast, the ground far down below us. We steer it around exotic birds and over great trees and under billowing clouds. We have to work as a team, together in tandem. And we have to be hyper alert to everything.
Eventually we reach the market. And there we meet all of our other friends. We set up an intricately carved booth and the rest of the people do the same. And we all sell our wares, each pair of us having different things to sell. There are pies, there are muffins, there is bread. There is wines, there are dresses, there are shoes. It's all such a very cute market. I could spend a whole bunch of time here. And I do.
The game ends when we've all bought from each other, and we get back into our cars. And then wee we talk for ages about how fun the game was, who our partners were, what our cottages looked like, what kinds of different activities we did.
We continue chatting as we file back into the restaurant. I order a steak drenched in creamy curry sauce and the spicy and savoury flavours dance across my tongue in warm, full flakes. I let myself get wrapped up in the sensation of taste. I let it flow through me and overwhelm me. I cut the steak up into into pieces and try to make it last as long as possible.
Before ordering desert, I think about how perfect this day was.
I drift into consciousness slowly. I am somewhere soft. So beautifully, unimaginably soft. And it's the absolute perfect temperature. There is something soft over my eyes and something slightly warm and fuzzy hugging me in just the right way.
I remove the covering from my eyes - a silken eyeshade - and find that I am in a bed, under temperature-regulating silk sheets and a weighted blanket. The blanket is lined with what might be vicuña fur, and is unimaginably soft. My sheets are lined with the same thing. Oh how lovely. What a wonderful place to wake up. Much better than waking up in ... in what? I lost my train of thought.
I gaze up at the sparkling, multi-coloured crystal mobile that is turning up on the bed above me. It throws glowing bits of light all around, against a light blue background that is so light it is almost white. How lovely. How free. How perfect.
I get up, and sit cross-legged on my soft bed, looking at the room.
It's a big room, with plenty of space to move around. It has a brilliant blue carpet and bright pink wood lining the floors. One wall is made of immaculately clear, glass panes each tinted a different colour, held together by a lavender frame of wavy wood. Outside the windowed wall is an artificial forest, with shimmering trees of many colours and bright natural light coming through the roof. The trees faintly shimmer in the light. Another wall is filled with paintings. Bright, beautiful paintings of all sizes in coloured frames, depicting many scenes. One wall is beside the bed and the last wall is occupied by a pink and blue shelf made of many squares, each occupied by a porcelains doll or a small vase or a little sculpture or miniature, frilly furniture or animals made of metal and gems. There are also many jars filled with items ranging from gems to fake leaves to dried flowers. It's so very pretty.
The wall next to the bunk bed has a door on it, beside the bed. Its threshold is glittering blue and decorated with metal snowflakes. The walls are light purple and have the faintest bit of sparkle in them. There are two escritoires in the middle of the room. They are painted pink with intricate patterns of blue and purple and green all over them. The paint shines in the soft morning light. There are vases full of flowers and jars full of gems lining their sides. There are shelves with squares at their ends, back-to-back with each other. The floor is softly carpeted, purple with many tiny blue dots, and there are dolls and stuffed animals around the edges of the floor. The room smells nice. Very nice.
I'm very glad to be alive today. Who wouldn't love life? I'm very glad to be in this soft, lovely, beautiful room. I put a warm, fuzzy robe on top of my light, short silk shift and I step onto the heated carpet. I look out the window for a while, gazing at the beauty before me.
"Hi," a voice above me chirps sleepily. I look up to the top of the bunk bed, where another girl is sitting cross-legged, hugging a life-sized magenta teddy bear. She has curly black hair, broad cheekbones, dark skin, and warm, night-dark eyes. Seeing her sends a jolt through me. For the first time I can remember I feel worried. I feel scared. I feel protective.
As quickly as they arrive, these feelings leave and I am once again peacefully contented. Sated.
"Hello," I reply politely, smiling softly at her. "My name is Simran. What's your's?"
"My name is Maggie," she replies.
"Nice to meet you."
"Nice to meet you too."
"How long have you been here?"
"I just woke up here today. How about you?"
"Me too. I just arrived in this room."
"It's a very beautiful room, isn't it?"
"It is. I think I'm going to like it here." A bolt of dread shoots through me but it's gone before I can really notice it at all. Maggie climbs down from her bunk bed and puts on her own light green robe. We gaze out the window in silence, looking at the beautiful trees.
Eventually there is a knock at the door.
"Come down for breakfast," a cheerful, masculine voice calls. We follow it out the door of our room.
And we are met with a large hallway lined with all sorts of carved tables in all sorts of artful shapes. Some are swirling at the edges and down the sides, some are round like bubbles, some are carved into the shapes of animals, some are blocks arranged artfully, some are framed. Some are short, some are tall, some are curved, some are made of straight lines, some go up, some go down. They are made of wood of so many different shades of brown. Warm and cool. Light and dark. Arranged so that they compliment each other perfectly. They all are perfectly polished and shiny. They all are beautiful.
On the tables are mounds of decoration pieces, of all sorts, all shining brightly or richly dark, all made of immaculate quality, all eye-catching and captivating. I do not even know how to name all the things that are there. And it just goes on and on and on and on.
The hallway itself shines lightly golden, as if softly gilded, and is carved into a series of depressed squares framed with niched upraised parts. Between the upraised parts and the depressed parts are golden slants. And there are imprints of flowers and leaves and stems made of darker gold all along the depressed parts.
There are many three-dimensional paintings lining the top of the wall, where the wall meets the roof. They look like windows of colours. The frames are polished silver and they are all the same height. The make a border around the top of the wall, and I almost want to reach up and touch.
The ceiling is carved with figures all twisted around each other and it is lined with softly glowing chandeliers. The chandeliers throw soft yellow light onto the white carved figures and throw softer yellow light onto the floor. This place must really like chandeliers. I really like chandeliers too. What is there not to like?
The floor is made of speckled marble, polished until it shines. It has rich red-and-gold patterned carpets placed down the middle. I smile upon seeing my reflection in the floor. This place is so nice and clean.
Doors are opening all along the length of the hallway, and girls are pouring out, until the hallway is sparsely populated with various teenaged girls. They are all dressed in fluffy robes like Maggie and I. We make our way down the halls until we reach a large cafeteria.
The cafeteria is almost more impressive than the halls. The tables are carved ornately, with stout legs. They are made of coloured metal in all kinds of bright colours. And the tops of the tables even, are carved ornately. There are large plates of glass on the tables, as clear as air, so that we can put our plates down.
From the high ceilings, many figures of all sorts descend down like stalactites in a cave. They are made of colourful metal as well, and are embedded with many many colourful gems, that all glow softly, lighting the room in many, many colours. The figures are arranged artfully so that from each angle you can see as many as possible.
We all gravitate towards one large table in the middle, which shines ocean blue and reminds me of the sea. We look around, at each other, but mostly at the room.
"Hi, everyone," Maggie chimes brightly.
"Hi," we all reply in a messy unison.
"So my name is Simran. What are yours?" I carry this next part of the conversation.
They all share their names. There are twenty of us. Nora, Delores, Labonita, Brigely, Zeinab, Zindagee, Lumina, Lavinia, Cara, Avalon, Nocta, Bik, Aisha, Ashlee, Chin, Valentina, Ishani, and Clara. And Maggie and I of course.
Our food arrives, carried by elegant, curved robots that move fluidly, on china plates that are ringed with patterns. We all dig in happily. Hungrily. I am so so very hungry.
The flavours dance across my tongue. They are bright and beautiful and delicious. Sweet and savoury and spicy and wonderful. Every single flicker of flavour perfectly balanced with the flavours all around it. The ingredients and herbs and spices all arranged together with precision and grace. The textures of the food, too, are dancing and wonderful. Soft and smooth or crisp and crunchy.
I don't even talk. None of us do. We all just enjoy the delicious food in front of us.
Everything is perfect. Everything is happy. I'm here enjoying food that I love. Just as I should be. This must be what love is.
After the first course of breakfast is over, the robots wheel in two more courses. We eat until we are filled to the brim. Until our stomachs are stretched. Until we cannot eat anymore. And then we eat a little bit more.
I feel a little bit sick, and I wonder, briefly, if everything is fine. That thought gets pushed away from me. Of course everything is fine. How could it not be? If I am feeling sick they only means that I am filled. That I am sated. That I have abundance.
Bright abundance. Grand abundance. This is what life is meant for. This abundance.
A lady in a shimmering silver dress with long flowing sleeves and striped silver and blue pants walks up to the front of the room. Her hair is dyed dark blue and has many little pins of shining silver, like stars. Her eyes are also dark blue and on her neck is a necklace of sapphires, wide and thick. Her skin is a dark ebony.
"Hello, girls," she sing-songs.
"Hello," we chime back.
"My name is Lydia. I will be your daytime guide for these three months. Welcome to the Young Lightning Youth Rehabilitation Centre, girls wing. You will be here for three months, and undergo a precisely planned regiment of tests and and activities, designed to make you feel better. Your minds and emotions will be fixed. And you will become cheerful, law-abiding, contributing members of society.
"There is a team of doctors and nurses here, and each of you will see your specially-assigned doctor once a day. They will give you a range of tests and ask you questions, in order to see how your recovery is going along. Do you have any questions?"
One girl, I think her name is Labonita, raises her hand.
"What if we are not recovering properly?"
"If there are any obstacles in the face of your recovery, you will be held here for longer as more medical procedures are done onto you."
Another girl raises her hand. I think she is Chin.
"Is it nice here?"
"This facility is designed to make you into good, healthy citizens. I'm sure you'll find that it's a very pleasant facility and that all the activities are very engaging."
Another girl raises her hand. She is probably named Clara.
"What will we do today?"
"After breakfast, we are going to get ready to go shopping. We will have lunch at the mall and will continue shopping until dinner. I want you all to pick out anything that would make your stay here feel more like home. Do not worry about money, the rehabilitation centre's expenses are all taken care of by the government. Any more questions?"
There aren't any.
We all go back to our rooms, and find that they are equipped with large walk-in closets. The closets are half filled with clothes so we have a selection to pick from. Maggie wears a bright orange taffeta shirt with blooming three-dimensional flowers of darker shades of orange, and a shimmering blue jacket that dips low, with flowing sleeves. She picks skinny jeans threaded through with shimmery blue thread and dark blue ballet flats. Everything is in her size.
Maggie and I decide to be matching so I wear the same outfit as her except my shirt is green as my jacket is purple. We look at each other and we smile. We look like mirror images of each other. Now everyone will know of our friendship.
We do our makeup in front of the large mirror in the closet, finding many makeup supplies on the shelves. And we brush oil blends into each other's hair and elaborately braid it. We look at ourselves and each other. We are the picture of beauty.
I love being beautiful.
Before we set out, Lydia gives us tracker bracelets, which she clamps around our wrists. The bracelets are lightweight. They're pretty. Carved silver that glows softly in the light. Floral patterns swirling through their surfaces. I like the tracker bracelets. I'm so glad we have them.
We all make our way down the grand spiral staircase and towards the cars lined up outside. And we stand on the platforms as they rise up and we get into the cushioned interiors of the cars.
Maggie, me, Zeinab, and Avalon are in the same car. We throw open the roof so we can see the city outside. The wind blows through our hair as we are seated around the central table, the wind messing up our hairstyles just slightly, the car swaying us softly.
I look at Zeinab and for a moment I see something unfathomably dark in her eyes. Something unendingly deep. Something inconceivably sad. But it's ...
But it's gone, just as soon as it appears, and I go back to listening to the lilting music.
We arrive at the mall and it's beautiful. Spacious and well-lit and full of things to look at and smell. Music is in the air in each of the shops. Smiling sales robots, almost realistic as people, greet us happily, their faces plastered over in smiles.
We all disperse into the different shops of the mall. Each shop is designed differently. Each shop is designed beautifully. It's a pleasure to wander around looking at all the different things. It's a pleasure to talk to the sales robots. They are so attentive.
I feel like there is a stone in my chest.
No, never mind.
I feel like I am walking through a magical wonderland, with something to marvel at everywhere I turn. I could get lost in this. I could get lost in this forever. I am lost in this. I am lost in this for what feels like forever.
I go to the bag store. And I look around all the different merchandise. I finally buy a purse made of thick, slightly shimmery material. It looks small but it can fit many, many things. It's designed to be light. And it has beautiful colourful hummingbirds on the side, slightly three-dimensional, against the fluffy clouds of a blue sky. I also buy a heavy-duty backpack, that is embroidered with all sorts of little doodles and designs. The backpack carries two-thirds of it's own weight, making any load light. It is made of a soft plastic that feels almost like silk.
I go to the shoe store and buy three different pairs of shoes. The sales robots adjust them so they fit around the shape of my feet perfectly. They are so elegant and comfortable. One pair is an emerald green covered in glass with swirling green translucent patterns. One pair is dark blue with shimmery fireworks all over it, three-dimensional and colourful. One pair is a coral colour, and coral is my favourite, with layers and layers of intricate designs etched onto it. I also buy a new bike helmet. It can withstand six thousand kilonewtons of force. That's so impressive
I go to the sports equipment store and look around at all the marvellous things there are. I eventually but a self-driving skateboard as well as the kit to decorate the skateboard. I also buy light, strong fishing rods for if I ever need to go fishing. Honestly, I know I don't need these. But they were so interesting. So immensely interesting that I just had to have them.
After that my tracker beeps and tells me that it's time for lunch. So I make my way to the food court, which has large, sloping ceilings and clear mirrors everywhere and tables made of marble. There are strings of light woven into intricate patterns, arcing around the ceiling. And there are statues made of rose gold rising from the floors. There are little fountains everywhere.
The food is heavenly. It's fast food. Not very healthy. But fast food always tastes so flavourful and so good. It really adds to the feeling of being at the mall. It's strange how being at the mall has its own feeling to it. It almost feels like nothing else. Like no other experience. And eating at the mall feels like no other experience either.
I go to the clothing store and try on outfit after outfit after outfit. I don't quite like any of them though, even though all of them are beautiful. But I remember all the empty closet space I have back at the facility. I have to fill that space. I wonder if I should buy anything. I decide not to. It's better to have clothes you like than clothes you don't like.
I go to a store that is selling cool rocks. I love cool rocks. I buy a bunch of magnetic rocks and I buy little pieces of granite and marble and jade. I buy amethyst. I buy dark, glossy, polished rocks. I buy amber. I buy quartz. I buy nephrite. I buy a whole shopping bag just filled with rocks.
I go to another store and buy jars for all my rocks. Hard and made of the clearest glass, so that I can see my rocks perfectly.
I go to a toy store and buy an armful of board games, made with the latest board game technology. The technology of the games makes it impossible to cheat and also carefully arranges everything so that each player has an equal chance of winning. I know I'll love playing these with my friends. I also buy a maze game that is so beautiful. I'll have fun in this constantly-changing maze.
I go to an immersive game store and buy a few story-oriented immersive games. These are expensive so I don't buy too many. But still, they're so fun. They put you inside a whole new world filled with exciting new adventures.
A sales robot walks up to me. It shows me a world full of makeup. And it amazes me. I buy void-black eyeliner and rose-platinum eyeshadow and I buy bronzer and coral lipstick. I buy nail polish of five different blends. Each of them are multicoloured. I love multicoloured nail polish. I buy sleek and glossy lipgloss. And fake eyelashes that are so easy to put on. I buy rose-cream blush.
I go to the travel store and buy a hover board. I'll need to get around the facility fast. I buy another one, so I can have it just in case my first one breaks or gets lost. Or maybe I just buy it for the thrill of it.
Finally I go to the bookstore. I love books. I buy bags and bags of holographic books. More books than I will ever have the time to read. Still, even if most of them just sit up on my shelf, I'll have a big selection to pick from.
On the car ride home we are all tired. The car is filled with our bags of stuff. I think of all the stuff I bought on my way back from the mall. It was such a fun day.
I look up at the sky and for a moment I see something in the blackness. Something as if ... something as if it's trying to tell me something. For a moment I cannot breathe. I feel trapped. I feel suffocated.
I look around, desperately trying to find an escape. I see the shining bags scattered all around me. And the feeling goes away. All that's left is an all-pervading sense of calm.
Dinner is lovely. Delicious. And after dinner we all sit around the cafeteria, showing each other what we bought.
Today was a perfect day.
I drift away in peace.
My dreams are uneasy. I feel as if I am in the hot, wet maw of a great beast. I feel as if I am being swallowed by it. Surrounded on all sides. Sinking farther and farther. Deeper and deeper. I can't breathe. I can barely struggle against the thick, hot, strong walls around me. They squeeze me, push against me. I can't escape.
I am awoken by sharp sirens cutting through the blank, dark blanket of my dreamless sleep. For a moment my exhaustion makes me disoriented and I don't know what's going on. But then I remember. The police are here! Shit!
I push away my garbage bags with numb, freezing hands and I pull myself up onto my unsteady feet. I take off running, away from the sound of the sirens and away from the flashing lights. My feet are absolutely numb. I am unsteady. It hurts to even stand. But still I run faster than I have ever ran before, the cold air burning fire inside my lungs.
I reach the end of the alley and am met by another police car blocking the alley off. I climb up onto the hood of the car and clamber over it. I hit the ground on both feet and stop myself from falling. I continue running.
Can I outrun a car? There is no way I can outrun a car. But I have to. I have to so I will.
I duck and weave through the pedestrians on the streets with their shiny shopping bags. I barely notice their startled faces as I continue running. I barely notice anything.
I have to hide I have to hide I have to find somewhere to hide. But where?
Suddenly a piercing, acrid pain shoots through my shoulder and then the world is blank.
The world is blank.
The world is blank.
The world is black nothingness.
The world is blank.
The world is soft. Soft and warm. But in an altogether looming way.
I open my eyes and take account of my surroundings. I'm groggy and tired. My brain is not working properly. I am lying on something strange and soft, and on all sides of me I am wrapped in something warm. Something warm and slightly fuzzy and soft. I wonder what it could be. The room is dark. And I can't make out anything. I try to get up but I can't. There is somthing hard and metal around my neck that is preventing me.
I must have been captured.
Panic races through me, but it's a grating, useless sort of panic. I can't do anything about it. I can't escape. I can only lie on this too-soft bed and wait for my fate. A fate that is now entirely out of my hands.
I thrash against the chains or whatever it is that is holding me. I know that it's no use but I don't care anyways. I have to try. I have to try. Even if it's no use I have to try. I feel the collar around my neck with my hands, very carefully looking for anything, like a gap or a keyhole, that I could use in getting out. I find a tiny line at one edge of the collar and I dig my nails into it and pull. But nothing happens. The collar is too strong. Next I try to find any kinks in the chain connecting the collar to the wall. There is nothing. The chain links to a square of metal on the wall. I tug and pull at it with all the strength in my arms and body. But nothing happens. So I keep tugging. I dig my fingers into my collar and try to pull it loose. Nothing happens.
I don't know how long I stay there, pulling and clawing and tugging desperately for freedom. But I know that my mind is screaming, frantic, almost delirious. And I know that it's all useless, useless, useless.
All at once the room bursts with colour. There is bright, vibrant, garish shades of every conceivable hue everywhere, twisting and weaving in no discernible pattern. As if a bomb built of different paints exploded. I look around. Out of fear more than anything else. It's on the walls, the floor, the roof, everything.
And standing amidst the sea of colours is a woman with a lot of makeup caking her face. She has light pink lipstick that shines like pearls and eyeshadow of changing shades of pink. She wears a flowing dress in different shades of soft pink, with a sheer collar and puffy, sheer sleeves and a glowing, sheer train. The dress is clinched to her waist with a band of diamonds arranged into swirling designs. She has long, glowing hair that is dyed very light, warm green. In it is a headband adorned with gems that match her dress in both arrangement and type. Her eyelashes and eyebrows are the same colour. And from her neck dangles a silver chain with a small orb studded with green gems. Her face is full of soft concern. But there is something unbearably hard and sharp to it.
To be completely fair, she looks beautiful. But to be fair, she feels terrifying.
"So you're finally awake." Her voice sounds as sweet and as artificial as her painted lips are.
"I guess," I reply. "Where am I?"
"Oh, nowhere special. You're at the rehabilitation centre hospital. The police brought you in. You were freezing. Almost dead. Thank the stars we were able to save your life."
"Oh. Yeah. Thanks." I'm not grateful to her. Not really. But this seems like the polite thing to do.
"We understand that you are psychologically very disturbed. We want to help you live your life. To cherish your life."
I feel very uncomfortable here, chained to the wall, in a room of swirling colours, with the smooth, cold presence of this woman.
"Thank you," I respond, "but there's really no need. I'm satisfied to live my life the way I plan to live it, and to die the way plan to die. I don't need any intervention."
"Oh but you do. You are so psychologically disturbed that you are not aware of your own needs. But we can open a whole new world of possibility for you."
"No need. I have my own world right here inside me." I point to my slightly tilted head. For someone who is having everything she ever wanted ripped from her, I sure am acting very calm about all of this.
"But there is so much more out there in the world," she replies unsettlingly flawlessly. "You just have to be open to it."
"Please just let me go."
"Oh but we can't do that yet. We have to make sure you're good and healthy before you can leave."
"Wait a second, I just realized I don't know your name. How rude of me."
"My name is Kaylen. And we saw from your file that your name is Simran. Welcome Simran."
"Nice to meet you, Kaylen."
"Kaylen, have you ever felt like there was something inside of you that you couldn't name? That you couldn't put your finger on?"
"Occasionally I have. I think we all have." Her words are honeyed and cheerful.
"But have you ever tried to focus on it? Have you ever tried to really see it? Has it ever broken your heart?"
"We can all choose to focus on negative emotions rather than positive ones. But we can also choose to focus on the positive facts of existence. And I choose to focus on that."
"Have you ever thought to consider that there might be some truth to the unhappiness? That it might exist for a reason? That it might be there to try to tell you something?"
"Those are irrational thoughts. Thoughts that just get in the way of living a good life. I pay them no mind and soon you won't either."
"Do you not believe that my thoughts should be my own? To do with as I please?"
"I do. But you do not believe in letting yourself be free. You do not believe in letting yourself do what you truly want to do. That is why we have to let you unlock yourself. So you can be free to make the choices you truly want to make."
In reality it's her who is not letting herself be free. If she just looked into herself, if she just paid attention, if she just let herself be unhappy, she would see that there is so much wonder she is missing out on. But I know that arguing this point will get me nowhere. So I do not. I try to talk to her along her own lines of thinking.
"But don't you think different people want different things?" I ask her tactfully.
"To an extent, of course. But everyone wants to be happy. Everyone wants to have fun. Everyone wants to be alive and make the most out of life. We'll see what your real personality is once you start letting yourself have fun."
"Maybe that's not what life is meant to be for me." I don't know what else to say. "I won't be a problem for anyone. I won't ask anything of society. Nothing at all. Simply that I would be allowed to be as I want to be."
"But you can't just be neutral towards society," Kaylen replies. "You have to be part of society. That requires giving. It requires taking. It requires that you see all that we can provide for you."
"But I don't need what you can provide for me. I truly don't. I can be content without it. I can even be happy without it. Please just let me be happy in my own way of being happy."
"This is enough talking for now." The hard edge of Kaylen's voice is even more pronounced than it was before. It sends a stone of dread down my throat. "You're obviously not amenable to new ideas right now. Don't worry. You will be soon. And then we can talk. And our conversations will be a lot more productive."
"Please just let me go." This is my last resort. "Please. Please. Have mercy. Just do this one thing. I'm begging you."
"Your begging will not work." There is no kindness left in her voice now. Just calm collectedness tempered with mild exasperation. How is she so collected all the time?
"Please!" Tears are falling from my eyes now, as I tug at my chain, desperately trying to get away. I don't know if I'm crying for sympathy or if I'm genuinely crying. Either way, I doubt that it will help.
Suddenly a hole opens in the roof above me. A curving, snake-like segmented metallic pipe twists and bends as it makes its way down towards me. It has a hook at the end. And though it's not sharp, it fills me with terror.
I scream and thrash about, trying to make it so the hook doesn't reach me. I shake and thrash and writhe with all my strength. And I succeed, at not letting the hook reach me. For a long while I succeed. For time uncountable.
But even the most desperate of desperation doesn't make anyone invincible. Eventually the hook latches onto my collar, and attaches itself tightly to me. I unattached it immediately. And I keep writhing. It attaches to me again, I pull it off. Eventually, after a long time of struggling, it attaches to me again. Lightning-fast, a piece of metal juts out, completing the circle of the hook and taking with it any chance of escape. I pull against the metal pipe, and it's flexible enough to bend with me but strong enough to keep me where I am.
I scream. And it's a haunting, desperate, feral sound. Kaylen watches impassively as I continue pulling and screaming and crying, like a mad beast in a trap. She doesn't seem to care. Seems mildly annoyed at my dramatics. I don't care if she cares or not.
I will not go down passively. I have more dignity than that.
Kaylen steps up towards me. She unlinks the chain tying me to the wall. And with a sleek silver remote in her hand, which has buttons outlined by a soft green glow, she walks out of the room.
The pipe connecting me to the ceiling starts moving along the length of the ceiling now, the colours opening up to let it through and then closing behind it. I do not walk along. I plant my feet into the ground and pull away as much as I can. But it drags me along, unwilling and struggling. It has too much unwavering strength. I'm nothing against it.
But still, I keep struggling on. I will not go down passively.
We go down the swirling mass of halls and to a room that is really rather pretty, with paintings on each and every part of the wall and carved tables lined with all sorts of aesthetic things. There is a chair in the middle of the room. It has metal leg rests and arm rests and a metal headrest. There is an open ring of metal on the headrest. I get dragged towards that chair.
I kick and twist and lift my feet up. Anything to stop me from being placed on that chair. But I am lifted into the air and lowered down mercilessly. And then the ring clamps around my head and forehead. And I can't move. The chair is rather soft though. And temperature-regulating, it seems.
"Please, Kaylen! Please!" I howl through tears. She looks on impassively.
A terrifying, sharp-pointed instrument mounted on an intricate wheeled contraption rolls towards my head. I try to move it but I can't. I can only close my eyes as it inches closer and closer.
Abruptly there is a sharp pain on the side of my head. Bright and flaring hot. Unendurable. I scream. And I scream. And all I can feel is pain. Pain and fear. I beg and I beg for mercy but none comes as the pain goes on and on.
There is a horrible, unimaginably sharp feeling in my head. In the very centre of my head like something is piercing through my very brain itself. I almost lose consciousness but somehow I don't. There is a sharp, stinging, cold sensation that flows through my brain. And I know that I'm going to die. Right here, right now, I'm going to die. And I'm grateful.
All at once the pain goes away. I am left feeling numb. I am left feeling like I can't feel anything at all. But still my head feels wrong. Really wrong. But I just can't place the wrongness.
I suddenly don't care anymore. About anyone. About anything. There is nothing that I yearn for. Nothing that I seek. Nothing that I want. And I know that this is wrong. I know it's very wrong. I fight against it. I try desperately to remember everything I was fighting for before this.
Everything I was feeling. But I can't. Nothing comes to me at all.
It's as if the person I was before has completely disappeared.
I fight against the wrongness. But the apathy remains. It always remains. It feels like I am floating through a strange gray ocean, except all the water is oil and all the air is stale. I find myself drifting for time immeasurable. And when I finally feel steady again, things are worse than before.
My emotions light up neon in this fake, candy-sweet happiness. I feel glad. I feel content. I feel at peace. I feel excited. But it all seems wrong somehow. Like I'm sucking on a lollipop that hurts my teeth because of its sweetness. Like I'm looking at a shade of pink that is far too bright and burns my eyes.
I scream, terror finally finding a way to lace through my heart. And this terror feels real. Feels right. Feels like a warning. But as quickly as it began it ends, slipping through my fingers like sand, lost forever.
I can do nothing as my mind fills with the type of joy that has an unknown danger behind it. The type of joy that doesn't belong. I can to nothing except for give into it, as it takes me higher and higher to towering heights.
I eventually do feel a negative emotion. But even the negative emotion itself it disturbing. It's a sense of dissatisfaction. A sense of wanting more. But this dissatisfaction isn't like the dissatisfaction I felt before. It's so ... shallow, so obvious, so crude. It's so hungry, so ravenous, so destructive. Not destructive in a self-annihilating way. Destructive in a selfish, apathetic sort of way. Yes, that's right. This is an apathetic sort of dissatisfaction. It's hollow. It doesn't come from the heart.
I do everything I can to remember my normal state of emotions. But they are constantly denied me. I struggle and I fight with all the strength my mind and heart has. But it's not enough. Whatever power is coming over me, it is too much power for me to take on. Like the robotic pipe, like the chain, like the chair, I am nothing against it. But still, I don't give up.
I have to remember who I am. I have to remember who I am. I need for things to feel right again.
Suddenly my mind floods with a state of absolute calmness. Everything is alright. Everything is fine. I don't have to fight. I don't have to struggle. I just have to sit back and let life take me where it takes me. Everything is good. I am good. I am free. I am exactly where I want to be.
I bask in the bright, pressing, sated-unsated feeling inside of me. I gaze at the pictures on the wall. Oh how pretty they all are. How sweet. How glad I am that they're here. How glad I am that I'm here to see them. I love it here. The colours are so pretty. Kaylen is so pretty. She's so nice. She's so pink. Everything is so pretty here I love it here.
I drift off to sleep, sugary-pleasantness colouring my dreamlessness. Not feeling any sense of danger at all.