I breathe. I breathe. It's not enough. It's never enough. I don't know what I'm breathing. If it's air or gel or toxic sludge or oil. I lie naked on the cold floor under my massive, soft, four-poster bed with pastel coloured satin sheets. It's too soft. It smothers me.
My room is the perfect temperature. The perfect temperature to make me feel so very uncomfortably comfortable. I close my eyes and the darkness gives me a small measure of comfort. It's not enough though. It's not enough.
I am stranded. Wanting. Wanting something more than this. Longing for more. Longing for it with parts of my spirit that I can't even name. Parts of my spirit that I don't even know.
I'm not longing for more. Lord knows that I'm not longing for more. If anything I'm longing for less. Something ... something deeper than all this rot and clutter all around me. Something more than everything that can be quantified, can be empiricized, can be tasted.
I don't know what I want but lying here in the crowded darkness, I want something else.
I know that I have schoolwork to do. Schoolwork that I'm not doing. But I can't bring myself to care. Not now, with all these thoughts running dizzying circles around my head.
How I long for the everlasting dark blackness that comes after the end of the day. That comes after the end of life. The impenetrable blankness that penetrates through every part of one's being after they are no more of this world.
I might as well be. I definitely might be. Very soon.
I think of that. My young body overgrown with blooming flowers of red blood. The thought gives me some peace. The final freedom. The final peace. When you do not feel anything, do not want anything, do not need anything but to be nonexistent as eternity stretches out before you.
I'm not brave enough to do it myself.
I almost hope someone does it for me sooner or later.
Someone probably will do it sooner or later. I don't fit in. People like me don't exist in this society. Everyone is happy. Lucky. Filled with excitement and joy. I don't know why there are no people like me. But I'm pretty sure that the police or whoever kill off anyone who does end up a yearner like me.
This thought almost makes me want to hold onto life. Because if there are other people like me, I want to have the chance to just talk to one of them.
I lie on the marble floor, thinking. Thinking my day away like I always do. My head throbs, hurts. There is so much I have to learn. So much I have to unlearn. But I have no idea what I have to learn. I have no idea what I have to unlearn. I have no idea where to start.
My consciousness eventually fades out into blackness and when I awake again I'm in the darkness. I need to check what time it is. I squeeze myself through the tight emptiness between the floor and my bed frame. And I feel around my stone nightstand until I find my holo box. I turn on the small cube and a projection of the time floats in the darkness of my room. It's four am. I likely haven't slept enough.
I get ready for school in the darkness. I would rather walk to school than take my car. The car is too ... it's too smooth, it's too soft, it's too tucked away from the world. I don't even like the world. But there's something about feeling the heat of the sun or the cold bite of the wind that makes me feel alive.
I wear the same clothes I always wear. The clothes my mother tells me not to wear. A simple black cotton shirt and grey sweatpants. They're not really comfortable. Too soft and too smooth for my liking. But I bought them myself and these are the best clothes I could find.
Most people would not like them. They give me more than a few strange looks.
I get my bag from its place on the ground beside my wide doors. And I enter into the rest of the overly-large house, dimly lit with coloured lights along the edges of the walls.
I close my eyes and step quietly, carefully, feeling my way around. Feeling my way to the door. I unlock it and make my way out into the world.
The dark blackness of the night is sawed away by glaring neon lights everywhere I turn. They shine from the walls of houses, painting the pictures of many things. They shine from sculptures placed on lawns. They shine from the signs of the many businesses that litter the streets. And they shine from the cars that speed by.
Even in the middle of the night the road is busy with cars. The streets are busy with shoppers and revellers. There is noise and music and chatter all around me.
Glowing coloured lanterns in all sorts of fantastic shapes line the streets on wires between the carved street posts. The sidewalk is made of a shining tile that throws back every colour lit upon it.
It's all too much. All way too much. I make my way to the alleys behind the bustling blocks. There the roads are narrow. The buildings are blank. The pavement is simple concrete and it doesn't press onto me. I keep my eyes lowered as I count the number of blocks I walk in order to navigate myself.
What do I want? What do I want? What do I want? This one question constantly revolves through my mind and as always I cannot find an answer.
But I think about the darkness that exists between all the light. And I think about how that darkness is trying to tell me something. Trying to tell me something. But I can never figure out what.
I think about the pain that swirls through my head day in and and day out. It's become almost like a friend to me, pushing me forwards through the inherent wrongness of my life. Pushing me in some kind of direction. Pushing me towards something that we both know I want. But it grates on me. Wears me down. Leaves me unable to function.
But I don't want to function in the way that they are telling me to function. I don't want to go to school and get good grades and then go off to college and then get my degree and then go get a job and earn money so that I can buy a big house and lots of nice things.
It seems like an empty and hollow thing to pursue. Like a nothing type of thing to want.
But so much of life seems hollow. So much of life seems like nothing. No, nothing is not the right word. It seems like things. Yes. But it seems like too many things. It seems like an overflow of things. An overflow of of things that are ultimately worthless.
Everything around me seems worthless. No, not worthless. Worthless has connotations of powerlessness. Of neutrality. Everything around me grates down on me hard and aggressive. Everything is actively malicious.
I don't know why I feel this way. I tried, I tried for so long to feel like nothing was wrong. I tried for so long to not feel threatened by the entirety of this world. I tried for so long to live at peace.
And I did it. I did do it. I succeeded at being happy. But as content as I was, there was always this tiny part of my mind that was screaming at me that everything was deeply, horrifically fucking wrong. That the way I was living my life was deeply horrifically fucking wrong.
That part of myself was so deeply and bloodily disturbed at the person I had become. And it was right. It was so right. It was true. It was so true. I had to listen to it.
And so I did. And I felt a sense of freedom, an intangible sense of beauty, a sense of rightness I was absolutely intoxicated on. And it hurt. Being in opposition with everything, for reasons you didn't even know, for longings your couldn't even place, that hurt a lot. Constantly being weary of the world and everything in it hurt. So much. Being the outsider, the outcast, the lonely, it hurt. But there was a sense of freedom to it that I would not trade for anything at all. Not even peace.
If my existence was meant to be a constant war, against forces unknown, then so be it. But I know there is something at the end of this twisted tunnel. Something that will give me the clarity I've spent my whole existence in want of.
The night air is cold. It makes me shiver lightly. That's good though. The discomfort makes me feel alive. It makes me feel real. It makes me feel like I have some sort of purpose, some sort of belonging.
The weather exists. And that means nature exists, somewhere. It means that a part of nature exists. It hasn't been killed by the sprawl of the city where everything is falsely, empirically beautiful and comfortable and perfect. Nature exists and I can feel it. I can feel the weather. That means I'm a part of nature. Nature has the ability to hold me and welcome me. That means I'm alive.
Sometimes I don't feel alive. Heck, I don't even know what being alive means. That means I can't know whether I feel alive or not. But I can know that sometimes I feel like I'm going towards something. And sometimes I feel like I barely exist.
I don't know what the point of life is. I feel, both amaranthinely effervecently, like there must be a point There must be something that I'm missing. There must be a reason why I exist. Why we exist.
If only I could find that reason.
I don't have the faintest idea where to start. There's something. Even if that something is nothingness. There is something. Or a nothingness. That is out there somewhere. That I have to reach somehow.
I am at the looming monolith that makes up the school building. It shines in the light of the night. The sun is not up yet. That means that I still have at least forty five minutes before school starts. I tuck myself away beside the large crystal school doors. And I lie on the hard ground. It's cold. I close my eyes.
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I am awoken by a kick to the side. I groan and look up, vision blurry from sleep. It's Mrs. Mayorlon, the school's vice principal.
"No sleeping on school grounds," she tells me harshly. Her face is caked in makeup and she has a colourful dress of pleated chiffon dyed in many patterns. She looks down at me with squinted eyes.
"Yes, ma'am," I reply. I get up and make my way through the doors to my first class. Chemistry. I can barely concentrate in it though. My mind is throbbing and entirely out of it. I get called out by the teacher and told to concentrate. I apologize to him and try my best.
And it works. A tiny bit. I am able to catch some of his words here and there before they go to join the swirling mass inside my mind. I feel embarrassed. I feel like a failure.
But I don't care. Somewhere deep inside me, is something telling me to be strong. And I listen to it.
After class I walk down the wide, wide halls. Most students scooter their way across the school. It's really the only way to get to places on time. But I don't care. I like walking. I don't mind if I'm late.
The halls are decorated with all manners of fine sculptures thrown haphazardously here and there. Though I guess it's not really haphazardously. The interior designers spend a lot of time carefully rearranging everything every two months. But still. It feels haphazardous to me. There are many plush seats covered in fine, patterned fabric also strewn about, with swirling, carved metal trimmings. The high walls are carved in many swirls and blossoms. And translucent, light holograms shine over everything, students flowing through them as they make their way through the halls. Strings of incredibly tiny, crystal-like lights fall in webs from the ceiling. They form so many patterns. Coloured, blown-glass vases filled with flowers line the walls.
It's all too much. I keep my gaze on the floor.
And I bump into a few things as I go to my next class.
Math. It's especially important to pay attention now. For some reason that make it even harder to pay attention. My screaming inner world pulls me down, pulls me down, pulls me down until I'm once again drowning in the whirlwind. The teacher stares at me with hard, cold eyes. But I'm too wrapped up in my inner thoughts.
After math is English. I hate English most of all. It's so ... I can't describe how it is. It's just, they act like truth and meaning is stored in the colour of lipstick a character wears. And like that truth is the ultimate truth. I can't stand it.
But I sit through it and occasionally I answer questions. The teacher likes me. For some strange reason. The teacher is kind to me. But not kind enough.
She still insists that I try to be a normal person. As if being normal wasn't slowly killing me inside. As if normal is who I am.
Nobody really knows who I am. They only know who they want me to be. Even I don't really know who I am. And I don't know who I want myself to be. I only know that I'm not this, this perfect cookie-cutter, smiles and rainbows girl that everyone wants me to be. That's not who I want to be.
English class ends and I breathe a sigh of relief. It's time to go for lunch.
I walk over the tiled floors and silently make my way to the spiralling crystal staircases that surround the wide crystal elevator. I go up the stairs to the very top floor, a floor that is really more of a scaffolding hugging the wall tight with a narrow strip of stone. Nobody sits here. I'm not entirely certain why. But in the stillness of the solitude I feel at least a little bit free.
I don't touch my lunch. I simply lean back against the wall, fold my legs underneath me, and close my eyes.
The whole school smells like the floral soaps the robots use to keep it all meticulously clean. It's a cloying smell, though I've heard that the others like it. Here with my eyes closed, the artificial fragrant garden flowers assault my senses head-on.
But still, I'd rather be here with my eyes closed rather than having to face everything in the terrifying fullness of it all.
Laughter echoes faintly over the walls and into my ears. This laughter makes me feel lonely almost. All the other students have their groups of friends who they laugh and talk with. Who they go visit. Who they go out doing fun activities with. It's only me who's all by myself. It's only me who's alone.
But I'd rather be alone than with them. I did try talking and being friends with other kids. I tried it for a long while. But those relationships always felt so empty and hollow. They always felt so unreal.
It was all always about entertainment. The whole relationship was about entertainment. About being entertained. And about entertaining each other. I didn't feel like a person in those relationships. I didn't feel wanted for who I was. Wanted for who I wanted to be. I only felt wanted for the laughter, the jokes, and the interest I could bring to the group.
It was subtly degrading in such a cutting way. It made me feel lonelier than ever. It made me feel more alienated than ever. So much more alienated than when I was alone just with myself and I could just be myself.
And so I stopped those relationships. I decided that it is better to just be by myself until I find another soul who I can relate to. Someone who can really see me for who I am.
I doubt that I will ever find anyone like that. It's a thought that brings me cold, wet, falling melancholy. Like I'm drowning in the freezing rain. Like I'm inhaling dark purple poison fumes, sharp and acidic.
But I've learned to make peace with it anyways. As much as it hurts.
Because I have to live with it whether I want to or not.
I think about all the things my friends talked about when we were spending time together. Clothes and shoes and makeup and jewelry and posters and immersive shows and immersive games and holo-books and the theatre and food and their dream homes and their shiny new things and their dream cars and stuff like that. I never really got to know my friends. I only got to know them from the outside. Or at least that's what it always felt like.
Emotions, besides the emotion of lazy interest and shallow elation, were all locked away beyond us.
Now at least I can feel my emotions even if I don't know what they are. Now at least I can be some sort of semblance of myself instead of keeping myself hidden. Instead of keeping my emotions hidden.
Because I have no-one, I have no-one to hide from. Because I have no-one, I have no-one to show myself to. But even if I didn't have no-one, I would have no-one to show myself to. Even if I didn't have no-one, I would still have no-one anyways.
I wonder if I'm just existing for myself. I really, really don't want to do that, exist for myself. It seems like the most horrible existence there could be.
But everyone lives for themselves. They live to make more money. They live to spend more money. They live to buy more things. They live to buy more experiences. They live to hear more stories written by artificial intelligence programs and hear more songs sung by synthetic vocaloids.
Even when they're in a group, be it a family or a friend group, they don't care about anyone beyond the group. And even within the group, it's about what the group can do for them. What status or security or emotional labour or entertainment their people can give them. It's not ever about true togetherness.
We are all isolated in these insular little groups and we do not care at all for people outside the groups. It's a lonely existence no matter what.
Part of me wants to love people. To love everyone. But I don't know how. I don't know what love is. I don't know why love is. And at the same time I want to hide from everyone. To find a small, dark hole to cower in until I have things figured out, which I think I never will.
I want people. But I don't want people. I want company. But I don't want company. I want the loneliness to stop. But I know it never will. I know it never can.
And so I sit here with my back to the granite walls and I think of nothing and of everything all at the same time.
Hunger rips through me as it oh-so often does. I've been walking for hours and I haven't eaten since dinner two days ago. But I deal with the hunger. I'm at strong. I can take it. I'm strong enough to go for days without eating. Or maybe I'm simply not strong enough to bring food to my mouth. I do not know which one it is.
I let myself feel my hunger. And it's almost soothing. It almost takes my mind away from the whirlwind of my thoughts.
The bell rings, loud and fake and melodious. And it's time to get to class. I sigh and pick myself up with a heavy pull, slinging the black backpack over my shoulders and making my way down the crystal stairs that get replaced every few years.
The next class is physics. I arrive ten minutes late. Everyone turns to look at me. Everyone knows who I am, with my plain, ugly face and my plain, ugly clothes and my messy hair and my slouching posture and my constant lateness and my distraction. Everyone knows me and everyone hates me.
Some people even pity me in a strange, sort of disgusted, disdainful way.
"You've finally decided to join us then," the physics teacher announces coldly. I give him a sheepish smile and take my place in a large, chrome desk with wavy edges.
As always, I don't concentrate. And I don't hand in the homework that was due today. I know this wil get me a detention. I have detention pretty much every day.
After physics is French. I actually kind of like French. The teacher is friendly and the class is fun. That doesn't mean I'm not dazing off half the time though. The teacher asks to see me after class. We both know we have a spare after French. A spare I was really looking forwards to. But oh well. You can't have everything you want. In my case you can't have most things you want.
"What is it?" I ask the teacher, Miss Maycroft.
"You are always late. And you're never finished your assignments. I know I've asked you this before, but do you need to see someone?"
By someone she means a doctor or psychiatrist. I think it would be really rather dangerous seeing one of those. Trying to explain to them why I feel the way I do.
"I'm alright," I answer. "I just don't much see what the point of school is."
"It's my job to teach you well. If your grades are bad - and they are, they're really bad - then that reflects badly on me. I'm not doing my job properly."
"Don't worry about it. I'm sure your higher-ups know that it's my fault, not yours. And if they don't, then I'm sure you'll be able to explain it to them."
"They trust me to teach every student. But I haven't been able to break through to you. No-one has. Why is that?"
"I already told you. I don't much see the point of school."
"School is for your future. So that your future will be successful. What would anyone do without school? Don't you want a job?"
"Maybe I don't."
She stands there, aghast at my words. And I take this time to walk out the door and into the rest of my spare period.
I go up to my little rafter space. And I sit there, letting the hunger burn through me. And so I think about her words.
Without school I won't be able to get a job. And without a job I won't be able to eat or live or do anything. Do I really care about that? No. I already rarely eat. I already spend a lot of my time outside. I already don't sleep in a bed. If I slowly die, I'll slowly die. And that will be that.
Because what's the point of eating? What's the point of drinking? What's the point of doing all these things?
I just can't for the life of me figure out.
I wonder how dying will feel. Painful, no doubt. But I like pain. Pain focuses me. Pain shows me something that nothing else does. Something I want with all my heart to cling to.
I remember a poem. Written by a rich white man during the pinnacle of colonialism and class inequality. I learned it in my early childhood. It just stuck with me.
A slumber did my spirit seal
I had no human fears
She seemed a thing that could not feel
The touch of human years
She has no motion now, no force
She neither hears nor sees
Rolled round in earth's diurnal course
With rocks, and stones, and trees.
I wonder if dying will be like that. If being dead will be like that. But I doubt it. I doubt will be so poetic. But there is poetry to that. To something not being poetic. There is beauty in the unholiness. Though beauty and ugliness are both not the right words at all to describe it.
I don't know what beauty is. Nor ugliness. I just know what is aesthetically pleasing to others and what is not. And what is subtly magnificent within me and what is not and what is neither and what is both and what is some holy, unholy combination of any of those four.
I make my way to my last class. Biology. And I sit through it. I force myself to sit still though everything inside me is restless. I long to get up. I long to get up. Oh how much I long to get up. And to sit back down somewhere dark and cold. But I cannot.
"Simran. Come see me after class." The teacher is speaking to me. Her words are devoid of warmth. But there is a sort of heat to them, like a realistic fire as when you stand too close.
And eventually the class ends and it's just the two of us standing in a room lined with many models of the inner intricacies of the human body, with a soft red light glowing down from the many chandiers. It's actually really creepy in here. And I'm not the only one who says it. I've heard many students talking about how frightening this room is.
But what frightens me most is the blond-haired woman standing in front of me. Her name is Mrs. Humstad.
"What is this about, ma'am?" I ask.
"You. You're so very disorganized. You need to get your life in order."
"I'm alright ma'am. I have what I want."
"No you don't. You're a mess. You need to change things. You need to change them right now. You can't go on doing all these things and just not caring about anything. You have to brighten up. You have to actually live your life.
"First, let's talk about your clothes. You can't just keep wearing the same clothes day in and day out. You have to put some effort into what you wear. You have to go out and get better outfits. Get more outfits. Pick out a nice outfit every day and wear it. Change things up.
"And your makeup. You don't even wear makeup. That's not alright. You need to make yourself look presentable. And that means you need to put on makeup in the mornings. Pick some nice lipstick. Some pretty eyeshadow. Some warm blush. You'll feel better when you look better.
"And do something with your hair. Straighten it. Curl it. Style it better. You can't just go around looking like a wild child.
"And do something fun with your free time. I always see you just moping around. Go make some friends. Hang out with them. Go places with them. Do activities. Don't just spend your free time doing nothing. Go out dancing or to a museum or a restaurant or a game or a theatre. Go shopping. Hang out at the mall. Do things.
"And school. You can't just show up for no reason. You need to actually learn things. I know you find that hard. But once you've straightened out the rest of your life, once you're looking good and feeling good and actually having fun, it will be a lot easier for you to do school and work and all the other things you actually need to do in your life.
"You're off-putting to everyone around you. We're all scared of you. Things would be a lot easier for yourself and for others if you just focused on fixing your life. If you just focused on fixing yourself. And if you stopped being such a mood-spoiler and learned to fit in with everyone else."
"Is that it, ma'am?"
"No. It's not. I've talked to the school authorities and we all agree that taking you to see an expert would be best. You will be transported to the Young Lightning Youth Rehabilitation Center tomorrow."
I speed my way out of the school building.
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What the fuck. What the fuck?
I'm finally outside that godforsaken school. But I can't go to that rehabilitation centre. I just can't. I can't be just another happy-go-lucky shopper consuming their life away. I can't just not feel all these feelings that I know I need to feel.
I have to get out. No matter what.
I leave the school, and start walking down the empty alleyways towards a random direction. I'm not going home. I can't go home. And I can't go back to school either. The price is too high.
I don't know where I'm going. I'm probably going nowhere. I'll probably wander and waste away in these streets until the day I die. The thought fills me with apprehension. I know that it's a tough life ahead of me. A blazing, burning, freezing, hungry, thirsty, desperate life in front of me. With nothing but the clothes on my back and my own resourcefulness. It's going to be hard. Beyond hard.
But still, I'm not as afraid as I should be. A type of courage, a type of strength and resolve wells up inside my chest, radiates throughout my body. It warms me. Pushes me forwards. And I know that I can do it. With this strange sort of courage, with this illogical sense of strength, I can take on any adversity and misery and I can stay strong and keep pushing through it.
I keep walking. And walking. And walking and walking and walking. And the city screams around me. But in my exhaustion and my cold, it doesn't feel quite so grating anymore. It feels like a beast I must fight. A beast I must hide from. A beast I must go straight into the belly of if I am to preserve myself. It feels like a beast I can take on.
I keep walking in a random direction. And the world seems to sing around me. It feels like finally, finally, finally I am entering freedom. A terrible sort of freedom, with nothing and no-one on my side. Nothing and no-one to take care of me. Nothing but unending need. But it feels like freedom nonetheless. And I welcome it with bended knee and raised up head and open arms.
I walk down random alleyways, turning and curving and bending and twisting my path whenever I feel like it. The point is to create a trail that the police cannot follow. A trail that no-one can follow. The point is to end up somewhere without anyone knowing where I ended up. Not even myself.
I feel connected to the quickly-dipping temperatures around me. As if I am a part of the weather cycle itself. I feel connected to the slowly-darkening sky around me. As if I am a part of the nocturnal-diurnal cycle itself. There isn't any nature in this city. Not really. Just trees and bushes and flowers that are adorned with gaudy baubles. That are fenced in and kept far away from their wild homelands. That are hung for display in horrific styles. But still, there are parts of nature in the city nonetheless. There is the weather, the air, the sunlight, the cold, the heat, the darkness, the sky. I feel as if this nature is cutting into me and infusing me with itself and I am melting into it until we are one and the same.
It's an utterly glorious sensation, as painful as it is.
I have never felt this way before in my life. Part of me wants to never feel this way again. To be comfortable and to bask in my comfort. But the stronger, surer part of me revels in this feeling. In the constant flowingness of being left out in the elements. Of being utterly free to take me wherever my feet take me. Part of me wants to never give it up, these feelings and these experiences.
And I will never give them up. I promise myself that I won't. Even when the early winter sinks down towards midwinter, and I'm freezing, and I'm dying. I promise myself that I won't give up this feeling. I won't give up this oneness with the tiny pieces of nature I can access. I won't give up this bravery.
Even when thirst burns in my throat, reminding me that I have a body and that I can feel pain, that I can feel unimaginable violence. Still, I won't give up. I won't let weakness overcome me. I won't look for comfort when I could instead have glory.
When hunger gnaws at my gut and my chest. And I feel like I have died already. I feel like a ghost in torture. Still I will keep going. I'll keep going through the hunger and I will let myself feel it and I will let myself feel real.
The press of the future laid out ahead of me is sitting like a stone in my chest. Terrible. Terrifying. Tremendous. But it's also soaring like an ink-feathered and beautiful raven through the electric blue of twilight. Free. Mystical. Promising.
All around me I can feel magic. My life feels like magic. My heart feels like magic. In a way it has never felt before. I am a free person now. Completely free to be who I am. To be who I'm meant to be.
Sure, I will be in pain. I will be in immense pain. But there will be no-one there to tell me what to do. There will be no-one there to tell me what to want. What to work towards. Who to be. How to exist.
I will simply let my emotions carry me wherever they will and I will think and feel whatever thoughts and feelings flow through my mind.
I think of my parents. How they never saw me. Not for who I was anyways. How they loved me for who they wanted me to be. Who they thought I could've been if I tried hard enough. For who I never wanted to be. They saw me as the idealized version of the perfect girl and as a lazy, impetuous brat both at the same time.
I won't miss them. Not really. I think maybe I should. I think maybe I eventually will. When the days go by and by and I am left with only myself for company. I might come to realize that they held a place in my heart that cannot be filled.
I still will not go back.
I don't care if I miss them. My freedom is more important. My ability to be who my heart calls out for me to be is more important. More important than any pain. Including the pain of grief.
I wonder if hunger and thirst and heat and cold will eventually crush my resolve. I wonder if they will cause me to turn back and rush home, into the waiting arms of the rehabilitation centre.
I wonder if this bravery that I'm feeling won't last.
I vow to make it last. Even if this feeling of infallible resilience doesn't stay, even if I find it harder and harder to hold on, I will cling to any shreds of strength that I have and use them to keep myself together. I have to use them to keep myself from going back. Even if it's a desperate struggle, I must fight for my personhood.
The night is dark around me now. I have been walking for hours. But I must keep walking. I must make myself untraceable. I must walk until my very feet bleed and I can find somewhere safe to collapse.
I'm not tired. Not even a little bit. I wonder at myself. How? How am I not tired yet? How are my feet almost as light as they were when I first started this journey? I think maybe my fear is fuelling me. My fear any my hope, and whatever strange, marvellous emotions are in this intoxicating mixture.
I don't feel hunger and I feel it both at the same time. My insides feel empty. Aching. But not aching in a way that hurts. Simply aching in a way that is simply there. I feel detached from it. Detached and muted, as feelings swirl through my heart.
Thirst, too has not come yet. I wonder why. Is it because of the cold? Is it because I have not eaten? Is it because of all the excitement of the day?
No matter. I can deal with the hunger and thirst when it finally comes. And by deal with I mean willfully ignore.
I wonder if all the built-up hunger and thirst will eventually break through whatever dam is keeping them at bay and crash over me like a terrible tsunami. I wonder how horrible the pain will be when it finally comes. How unendurable.
However unendurable it is I will simply have to endure it.
I think about the history I learned in school. About the people who had been taken through the desert without food or water. How they had eventually died of exhaustion and need.
I feel a strange sense of camaraderie with these people. We are one and the same. Walking. Walking. Walking until we die. They are my comrades. But at the same time we are different. They didn't choose such a torturous life and death. I did.
I feel the wind blow over my body, sending tingles of chill through me. The wind caresses me like a lover. Like a child. Like a mother. When I die - and I will die - when I die, it will be in the wind's arms. It might even be by the wind's hand. It will be so beautiful. So perfect. So right.
I'll be surrounded by something that loves me. Finally. After years upon years upon years upon years of of being lost and empty. After years of being wandering and alone. Years of having no family, no friends, no-one. Of dashing my heart against the cold, sterile walls of the hallways that made up my world.
If I am loved enough to be killed by something, then that's the ultimate love. It's the ultimate form of intimacy. It's the ultimate form of setting someone free. The ultimate caress. The ultimate embrace.
I wonder why I'm thinking such morbid thoughts. But I know why. I easily know. It's because death is all that's in store for me right now. Death and the ultimate freedom it brings, and the smaller freedom stretched out before me until then.
I wonder if I'll be as accepting of death when it finally does come. I tell myself that I have to be. I have to take it. There is no getting out of this. Not alive. And I have to hold on however I can.
I have to keep going.
Above me the sky is brightening to a dark electric blue. The first signs of impending dawn. I keep walking, my steps staking out a twisting track through it all. And I keep my head tilted upwards, looking at the sky. The sky is beautiful. No, that's not right. Beautiful is not the right word. The sky sparks with this energy, with this realness, with this glow of life that other things do not have.
I feel as if I'm feeling the sky more than looking at it. I feel as if I'm melting into it, almost. Like the lines between myself and the sky are being erased until I am annihilated into the endless expanse of life above me.
The sky turns soft purple, the clouds glowing pink. And then eventually it's the light blue that it always is. I keep on watching it. I keep on walking. I'm feeling the barest edges of tiredness linger about me now, but I'm still not tired yet. The air is frigid but I can only feel the barest edges of its sharpness. I do not know when I will collapse but when I do it won't be pretty.
I have no idea which part of the city I'm in now. I just know that I have to keep going. This is good, though. If I have no idea where I am, that means that the police or whatever other authorities are looking for me also have no idea where I am. It means I'm safe. Well, not really safe. But as close to safe as I can be.
I wonder if I will have the strength to keep walking when I am starved and death is near me. I think I will. The people in the desert were able to keep on walking until they died. And they were all normal people like me. I will have to will myself on.
The longer I stay in one place the likelier it will be that the authorities find me.
I think of school. I feel great now that I'll never see it again. School always left a bad taste in my mouth. And it wasn't the learning that was hard. It was the people. The atmosphere. The oppression that was woven into the very building itself. It won't be pressing down into me any longer. All it is now is a memory that will become lighter and lighter as my soul starts leaving my body.
I wonder if my soul is already leaving my body now. I've gone a day without food or water. A day without sleep or rest. A day out in this coldness. That must be enough to get me started. Started in the process of dying.
I wonder again why I am so keen to die. But as always, the answer is right there. It's the only path for me. The only path to freedom.
A slumber did my spirit feel. I had no human fears. She was a thing that could not feel, the touch of human years. She has no motion now, no force. She neither hears nor sees. Rolled round in earth's diurnal course. With rocks, and dirt, and trees.
I say that poem to myself over and over and over again. Until it feels like a part of me, like a very intrinsic part of me, is one with the poem. Not with the words of the poem. No. Not with the way it flows and rhymes. I couldn't care less about the way it flows and rhymes. I am taking into myself instead the message of the poem. The peace and the oneness brought by death.
It's a rather simple idea really. An idea born of the knowledge of what death really is. An idea born of feeling the wind blowing against your body. It's an idea anyone could have, if they bother to look within themselves. Not that anyone bothers to look within themselves. But still, if they did have that idea, they would find a sense of peace.
I wonder. I've never, ever had anyone to share my ideas with. I've never had anyone I could show even a shred of honesty to. It tears me up inside. It leaves me feeling lost, lost, lost and washed out and hollow. My life would be so much better if I had someone, anyone, to share it with. But I would have to cut and sand and grate myself in order to fit into the perfect mold that I'd have to be in in order to have friends.
I take a deep breath and I walk on through the daytime. The winter sun offers barely any warmth. But I am so wrapped up in - is it adrenaline? - that I barely feel it.
I wonder if God is helping me. Not that I believe in God. No-one does. We all just believe in science. But I've read about God before. And it's a beautiful idea. I always really wanted to believe in it. Believe that some force was out there, latently powerful, helping us in secret ways.
Though I guess the God I believe in is not the God that the history people believed in. Their God was an extension of their national pride. Was an extension of their status quo. Was the thing that kept it all in place.
My God is the opposite of that.
I have no proof that They exist but I don't know why I believe in Them so much. Right now in the midst of eternity stretched out before me I believe in Them more than ever.
I smile softly and look up towards the sky. A few fluffy clouds have gathered. The sky is sad along with me. The sky is happy along with me. The sky is waiting along with me.
I feel the magic within me. It twists and rises and dances. I feel the way that it almost transforms me. I am stronger than I used to be. I am braver than I used to be. I am better than I used to be. I was just as bad as the others before, really. I thought I was better than them because I knew I longed for more. But I did nothing with that longing. Just like all of them did. Now. Now I am changing myself. Now I am changing my life. Now the longing comes to life and to truth within me.
I walk. And I walk. And I walk on. And I don't feel tired. And I don't feel tired. And the hunger grows within me, grows until it arches cavernous. But I only feel the barest, waving edges of it. The thirst grows within me but through my numbed senses all I can feel is a heaviness. My hands and feet start to go numb. But I don't care.
The sky grows dark and then it grows bright and then it grows dark and then it grows bright as it arches above me. I feel the cycles of day and night move around me and move through me. I feel like I am part of the cycle, with my constantly moving feet.
But, after uncounted days, I suddenly feel exhausted. The exhaustion that comes over me is unlike any exhaustion that I have ever felt before. My bones, my soul, my consciousness, everything, it's all collapsing. I don't want to go home. Hell no. I still have the strength that I promised myself I would have. But I need to rest. I feel dizzy, feel like collapsing, and I need to rest.
So I find a bunch of garbage bags beside the stone buildings that line the alley. And I arrange them over and around me so that I can still breathe but I am not seen. It smells terrible. But I don't care. I drop down into the welcoming blackness of sleep on the cold, rough ground.
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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.
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 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 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 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.