Re: I’m not titling this… (Part four added 11/29)
The glowing red sun was blinding now, I raised my hand to shield my eyes. With the piercing brilliance temporarily eclipsed, I searched for the signal that was previously hidden behind the overwhelming light.
Bingo! Green light.
I moved forward slowly, cautiously trying to avoid others who may also be as blind as I. Cursing under my breath, I nearly missed my mark, but a last-second change in velocity put me right where I wanted to be.
I rounded the building and parked near the door, facing away from the blinding sunset. For a few moments, I just sat and massaged my stinging eyes. I’d have to wait a little while if I didn’t want to blind myself. This seemed like a good time for dinner, anyway. With a sigh, I eased my stiff body out of the car, and walked slowly into the restaurant. After ordering, I took a seat, glanced around, and took a large swig of sweet tea.
Damn, that’s good.
Apart from myself, the place was almost completely empty. Only one other table appeared to be occupied, and even that was only evidenced by leftover food; it probably just hadn’t been cleaned up yet. I did a full sweep of the place, finding that even the cashier was now gone.
I guess I’m alone. I shrugged.
As if to defy me, I heard a series of thumps from my right. I turned to the window and searched for the source of the noise. Outside, built right up to the side of the building, was a play area for kids. Brightly colored posts and platforms rose up above me. Near the ground, they formed steps and low bridges, but the upper levels were enclosed, obviously to prevent kids from falling and hurting themselves. Just above me, spanning the distance between two enclosed platforms, was a clear tube; easily big enough for a child to crawl through. For a time, I couldn’t see any activity; but just before I gave up, something blue moved past a window in one of the upper enclosures. It seemed like a fun game to try and spot whomever was hiding within the colorful structure.
I heard more thumping, then a high-pitch squeal. Soon after, a little girl emerged from the base of a spiraling slide. I couldn’t help but crack a wide grin at her bliss. Hopping down, she bounced across the playground. Brown pigtails trailed after her, and a bright, white diaper could easily be seen beneath the skirt of her denim jumper. She ran right toward me, and slapped both her palms against the window as she came to a stop. At first, I thought she was staring at me, but I could see that her bright eyes were looking lower.
Is she staring at my drink?
I looked down at the solitary cup, centered in front of me. Indeed, by now, it should be accompanied by fries and a chicken sandwich. I poked the cup lightly, causing it to move a little. A loud yelp startled me, and drew my attention back to the girl. She had turned and fled back to the safety of the of jungle gym. Shrugging, I lifted the straw to my lips, and drained another quarter of its contents.
Where is my food at, anyway?
The inrush of new liquid reminded me of the several water bottles I had drained on the way up the road. I’d have to swing by the restroom before getting back on the highway. But just as quickly as it had flared up, my urgency vanished. More thumping and loud giggling turned my attention back to the playground. Again, I smiled, thinking of how much fun that girl was having; it was infectious.
My gaze turned upward as she crawled overhead. Through the clear tube she rumbled, then disappeared around a corner. From below, all I could really see was her diaper; which notably, now had a distinct yellowish tint. In another several seconds she appeared, once again, at the bottom of the slide. With legs spread, I confirmed that her diaper was indeed wet. And as she sprinted across the playground, it sagged heavily beneath her dress. Suddenly aware of myself, I glanced around the room.
Where are her parents? Where is anybody?
Other than unfinished food, nothing else decorated the table across from me. It made sense that her parents might take a purse or diaper bag into the restroom with them; but I was shocked that they would leave her alone. My stomach grumbled, but unlike my mind, it didn’t ask for food. Instead, a sharp pain stabbed me much lower.
I guess this is what I get for sitting in the car so long.
Directly above me, the girl had stopped crawling, midway through the pipe. I massaged my stomach a little, I didn’t want the server to miss me if they came out with my food. At nearly the same time, the girl also put a hand to her belly.
Does she have to go as well? Lucky kid, she gets to keep playing; I’ll probably miss my food, and then have to go find the damn manager.
I reached for my drink; and she put her hand back down to stabilize herself. I raised an eyebrow. Just then, a woman came out from the restrooms. I quickly looked away from the girl, turning my gaze to the woman. She looked in my direction as she approached her table. Just like her daughter, she didn’t look at me directly, but instead, seemed to be inspecting my table. I smiled, she didn’t respond.
What on earth?
I waved at her. Without looking up, she popped an eyebrow, then took her seat. I considered asking her if she had to wait for her food.
You’re either oblivious, or a really snobby bitch.
The woman glanced around the room, her eyes passing over me without making contact with mine. I flipped her the bird. She went back to looking at her food. My eyes widened.
Can you really not even tell I’m here?
I pushed my drink to the edge of the table. This attracted her attention for only a moment, before it was monopolized by her cell phone.
Look at me you twat!
I knocked the cup off of the table. She jumped slightly as it spilled across the floor, but then went right back to her phone. I sighed, and returned my gaze to the little girl, still in the tube. She had apparently also been looking at the woman, likely her mother, because her head was just turning away as I looked back to her. Sadness washed over me; I felt sorry for the girl, who was likely just constantly ignored. I wanted to walk over and smack the woman.
You’re not even gonna pay attention to your daughter? You’re not even bothered that she was alone out here with a complete stranger?
My stomach cramped again, my hand shot to the area, attempting to provide comfort. Again, the girl mimicked me, also massaging her gut. I wasn’t quite ready to go yet, the pressure was still in my gut, not quite low enough to warrant a trip to the restroom. I reached for my drink, which I then remembered was puddled on the floor. With a sigh, I folded my hands on the table in front of me.
The girl seemed to tense. I could feel something inside of me shift drastically downward. I watched the girl’s hands move from from spread palms to clenched fists. I felt more sympathy for the girl. I also felt trapped; nearly as trapped as she must be.
Could she ask her mother to take her to the potty? Would her mother even listen? Would her mother change her right away? If this woman was so rude as to completely ignore the both of us, she’d probably put her daughter back in the car in a messy diaper. I wish this lady would notice her daughter. And I wish these damn servers would bring me my food; I gotta hit the road soon.
I decided that my best chance at food was to hit the restroom right away. If I was quick about it, I might be lucky enough that my food would be ready when I returned. I glanced around the room again; no one. I passed my gaze over the snobby lady, before returning my focus to the girl. Again, the girl must have also been looking at her mother, as her head snapped back to straight forward, and away from me.
I really wanted to get up and walk to the restroom, but I couldn’t pull my gaze away from the girl. Inside me, everything suddenly shifted, I could feel that I was definitely ready to go. A series of clear droplets splattered on the plexiglas between the girl’s hands. Pressure built inside me; and the girl clenched her hands more tightly, droplets fell again. I knew I urgently needed to use the restroom, but still I sat.
Then, as if it never were; my discomfort began to dissipate. The pressure subsided, and within seconds, I didn’t even feel the need to go at all.
Above me, I couldn’t help but stare at the little girl. With tears falling rapidly, I watched as her diaper began to sag heavily. Starting at the leg cuffs, it also began to darken. Behind the white exterior, a brown stain spread; quickly bridging the space between her legs, it crept upward in both directions, nearly reaching the waistband in both the front and back.
I shot a glance at her mother, hoping she would notice her daughter’s plight. She was still enraptured by her phone. The girl began to crawl again, slower this time. I stood up.
I wasn’t standing now, but seated again. Leaning against the metal wall, there was no more restaurant around me, or playground beside me, only darkness.
My ears tuned once again to the indistinct hum that lulled me with a mechanical precision. No longer was the sun setting in piercing brilliance, but hovering, and bathing the vicinity in a tint of blood.
Was I asleep just then? Am I now?
If I had been, no rejuvenescence had been gained, and if I was now, still; I only hoped to wake.
Quickly fading, soon to be lost, was my only present memory; the visitation I was granted in the restaurant. The lady I had cursed, faded, and with her fled the girl. The girl who now seemed so fresh and cheerful. Together they left, and I was helpless even to call after them, even to watch their departure.
I was alone.
I was still alone.
Only I stared at the star.
For a time, I did just that. How long exactly, I didn’t know. Likewise, the importance of accurate timekeeping was lost to me. Its significance ranged from totally irrelevant at one moment; to being the only relevant thing at another. However, each instance could just as easily be called a century as it could a moment.
It only stared back, like it always had.
Like it always had.
I waited for something to happen.
The reward for my patience, was a single tiny speck of light, floating past the window. It appeared from the left, and traveled right, toward the sun. I put my thumb up at arms length, eclipsing the speck entirely. Upon lowering my hand, I suspected that the light had grown brighter. Indeed, it flared up, like a tiny candle, then dissipated.
I never saw its like again.
I guess that’s enough entertainment for now.
I continued to stare at the huge, bloody, sphere. Its dull glow was soothing to the eyes. I shook my head, and freed myself from the lull into which I had begun to fall. I could see clearly again, the patterns that dotted the surface of the star were intricate, but unmoving. Though there was no defined center to be seen, I could tell that it was staring back at me. Its appearance changed not one bit, but something had recently begun to feel different.
Was it not staring before?
Lidless, its gaze bore into me with no hindrance from skin, muscle, or bone.
What can I do?
I sat there, matching its unblinking fixation. It was no more a contest of wills, than it was two mere objects left facing each other on a shelf. Neither of us was willing to give even the slightest of ground; were there any to be given. I, back against the wall, held in place, couldn’t so much as move a finger; even for all my efforts.
I tried to convince myself that I had exerted effort, in an attempt to justify my torpid state.
But what does it even matter? I’m here. I’m gonna be here. I’ll die here.
The star stared back at me.
Can I even die here? Can I not escape?
The star stared back at me.
For the briefest of moments, I was immersed in a wave of my past, and how it led to the now; but like a wave, it washed away, leaving me parched for memory.
If I speak out loud, what will that do? Will it prove anything? Can I even speak? Should I? Why Should I? What possible accomplishment could be achieved by speaking aloud?
Screw it, I like it quiet anyway.
I still didn’t know what to do. I needed something to base the decision on, but I certainly couldn’t just do nothing. The first thing was do decide whether or not I would eventually leave.
Am I just gonna rot here?
The star stared back at me.
Alright, assuming I’m not, what should I do while I wait? What could I possibly do to pass the time? It’s not like there’s anything to actually do. More importantly, when will I get out of here, and how?
But wait! What if one depends on the other?
What if when I can leave, depends entirely on how? What if the deciding factor for when is what I do while waiting?
What if I’m supposed to do something before I can leave? But why would that be? Who decides?
My mind began to race. I was actually surprised at how quickly I put the pieces together. All at once, it began to make sense. I grinned inwardly. It didn’t matter who was doing this to me, or even if it was being done rather than just happening; this place was a prison, and I would only leave after serving my sentence. This could very well be purgatory, and before I could enter heaven, I would have to atone for my sins.
But what are my sins?
The star stared back at me.
I’d be an arrogant fool to think I don’t have any.
The question hovered in front of me.
I jolted as if woken suddenly. Whether relived at full length, or presented in montage, I felt again the oddity of my encounter at the restaurant. The blinding sun, the little girl, the woman. My question was voiced again.
What are my sins?
The comparison to purgatory faded back into mind. Humoring myself, I prepared a mental checklist to see just how damned I was.
Nah, probably not. I work too damn hard for that.
The star stared at me.
But then again, sloth means more than just being lazy. I’m outgoing, I don’t procrastinate. In fact, right now is the only time where I’m not actively pursuing some goal. Let’s move on.
Nope. I considered my slender frame. I’m not wasteful, I’m not overindulgent. Next.
Alright, shit; you got me.
The star stared back at me.
But is my quick temper, truly the fruit of wrath? I suppose I do harbor resentment and hatred. My prejudices may be deep-rooted, but apart from loud venting, I’ve never taken action based on them. Well, no more than any normal human.
I wondered if my most glaring flaw was actually as big a flaw as I thought it to be. Or maybe this was just an early warning of things to come. I decided that it would be wise to keep my anger in check.
I just gotta chill out, it’s not even healthy to get so worked-up all the time.
Wanting to be successful ain’t being greedy. I don’t want any more than what’s fair; and I definitely don’t only seek wealth and power.
And once again; nope. The fact that I’m search myself for sin is evidence to that. I feel that I can say, without exaggeration, that I’m not arrogant. Of course, I do joke about being perfect, but I don’t think that counts. Right?
The star stared at me.
I became frustrated.
Am I even doing this right? How am I qualified to do this, anyway?
Another part of me spoke up.
You’re not, dumbass!
Brilliant, I’m talking to myself.
But we’re not even talking.
Alright then, I’m having an argument, with myself, inside my own head. What could be worse than that?
Probably nothing, you’ve lost your damn mind.
Then what’s the point of this?
There isn’t one, you’re just gonna justify your actions. Don’t lie, you know it’s true.
But I’m trying not to. Anyway, let’s not get sidetracked right when I’m about to confront the worst of my sins.
The star stared at me.
Am I really envious? Do I want what others have?
The star stared back at me.
I’m dumb as shit, aren’t I?
No, you just aren’t looking close enough.
Parked the car, ordered, sat, waited, watched, wondered, stood. The part of my head that was rudely arguing with me, also decided to play through my only current memory once again.
If that’s supposed to prove anything, it’s too vague. No one has anything that I want.
It’s not about what they have.
Then what the hell’s it about? Also, how the hell do you know where I’m supposed to look, if you’re part of me arguing with myself?
I had actually argued myself to mental silence; truly, there’s no stranger feeling.
This is stupid!
But do you have anything better to do?
Can’t you just friggin’ tell me?
Fine. You, -er, I, -er, screw it. You’re not envious of what others have you’re envious of what they are.
I knew that!
The star stared at me, not amused.
So what about lust?
That one’s easy as shit.
Yeah, I know it.
Of course you do.
Right, so I’m wrathful, envious, and lustful.
Yeah, let’s tackle those for now.
Well how do I fix them?
Again, my internal argument came to a halt. Self-diagnosis didn’t seem to be my strong suit. I needed a different perspective on this nonsense.
Can’t they just make a pill for this?
“C’mon, it doesn’t got cooties on it.” James held out a knife, smeared with both peanut butter and jelly.
It wasn’t the cooties that bothered me, he had just licked it off, but rather, it was the fact that the jelly was getting mixed into the peanut butter jar. I hesitated before taking the knife, wondering if his parents would be mad if I used a second knife for my sandwich. Shrugging, I accepted the utensil and used it to generously spread the two tasty substances across my slice of bread.
With sandwiches made, we each grabbed an apple and a juice box. Placing them in James’ lunch box, we headed out the back door; making a beeline toward the old tree fort at the edge of the woods. I had dropped my bike on the ground near the back door, and only regretted the decision as I tripped over it. James didn’t even look back at me and I struggled to keep up with him as we ran across the yard. I caught him at the base of the tree, and together we scrambled up the ladder.
“Oh hi you guys.” I heard a familiar voice from above me.
My heart sank as I clambered toward the platform. The voice belonged to James’ bigger brother, who was already in the fort. He smiled at me, adjusted his glasses, and took a sip from his soda can. He was sitting with the new kid, Jack, who lived at the rental down the street. I couldn’t understand why. James’ brother was ten, three years older than me; Jack was half-a-year younger than me.
“Heya, Tee.” James replied quietly, looking down. “What’re ya doin’ up here?”
“Just drinking a soda with Jack here.” He jerked his head in the direction of the younger kid.
“A soda? Where’d ya get it?” James set the lunchbox down, signaling that we were in fact, going to eat lunch up here, despite the current occupants.
“I found it!” Tee narrowed his eyes toward James, then grinned widely as he turned to me. “C’mon up Ceecee, you’re just hanging there like you peed your panties or something.”
You’d probably like that, wouldn’t you?
Realizing that I was still on the ladder, I pulled myself into the fort. I didn’t want to, but it would be suspicious if I just left by myself right now.
“We were just gonna have some lunch up here, but we can leave if you want us to.” James said, clearly hoping to be taken up on his offer.
“Nah, it’s cool. Me an’ Jack were just talkin’ about Legos an’ games an’ whatever.” He nudged Jack in the ribs. “Jack’s got a Dreamcast, don’t ya?”
Jack grinned sheepishly and nodded.
We sat down and leaned against the wall opposite Jack and Tee. James opened the lunch box and handed me a sandwich and juice box. Everyone was silent for the next several minutes; James and I ate our lunch, while Jack and Tee drank soda.
“Maybe we could play a game.” James prompted, finishing the last bite of his sandwich.
“What about Uno?” Jack blurted out.
“I was thinking of Go Fish.” James turned to me. “Ceecee, you wanna play Go Fish or Uno?”
“How about we play truth or dare?” Tee looked around at the group with a smirk.
No one responded for a second.
I hoped he wouldn’t, but James just sighed and said, “I guess we could.”
Tee looked at Jack, who shrugged, then to me. “So, you wanna play truth or dare?”
I shrugged as well, I didn’t want to play anything with Tee, but I knew he wouldn’t just let me leave. I wanted to play with James, not Tee, but both of them were here.
“Okay then.” He turned to Jack. “You know how to play, right?”
“Mmm Hmm.” Jack nodded.
Tee set an empty root beer bottle in the middle of the floor, and spun it vigorously. It landed pointing to James.
“Truth or dare?”
“Okay, have you ever wanted to kiss Ceecee?”
James shot me a worried look. “Uh… yeah.” He mumbled. I smiled, trying to let him know that it was okay. I thought it was kinda cute.
“C’mon, say it louder.” He teased his uncomfortable-looking brother. “She can’t hear you.”
“Yes!” James said, blushing.
I giggled, so did Jack; obviously for different reasons.
James spun the bottle, this time it landed on Tee.
“Dare.” He blurted before James could even ask.
“Alright then, I dare you to let Ceecee slap you.” James looked pleased with himself.
Tee didn’t look to happy.
Much as I really wanted to clobber him with all my might, I knew that somehow it would end badly for me; despite being within the rules. I gave him a light slap to the shoulder. The look that Tee gave me as I took my seat made me certain that I’d somehow end up regretting even what little I’d done.
He spun again, landing on James.
James had to blush heavily again, as he answered that he’d been spanked only two days ago.
The bottle pointed at Jack; who opted for truth.
“Okay Jack, what’s the most embarrassing thing you’ve ever done.” James asked.
“I’m in a pampers right now!” Jack blurted.
Somehow, even without his reaction, James and I were immediately certain that he had something to do with it. James and I exchanged glances before returning our collective gaze to the guilty-looking boy.
“It was his idea.” Tee gestured with his thumb, to the youngest of the group.
Jack didn’t seem nearly as embarrassed as Tee. Apparently, he didn’t notice the awkward silence either. Without a word, he spun the bottle.
It stopped closest to Tee, who again chose a dare.
Jack was giggling. “I dare you to punch that wall.”
Silently Tee stood up, and in a flash, had delivered a blow to the wall of the fort.
James and I became statues when we heard the board crack.
Tee smiled at us and took his seat again.
I gulped when the bottle pointed in my direction.
Tee grinned widely. “Well, truth or dare?”
I didn’t respond. How could I? This is why I hated playing this game. Which was worse, having to reveal some horrible secret, or having to do Tee’s unrestricted bidding?
“You want a dare?” He prompted.
I shook my head.
“So does that mean you pick truth?”
I shook my head again.
“If you can’t make up your mind, I’ll just pick for you.”
I realized that was probably the dumbest thing I could do. But which one was he hoping I’d pick? Which one did he have plans for, and could I work my way out of them somehow? I looked over at James for an answer.
“Fine, I’ll give you a dare.” Tee spoke just as his brother was opening his mouth.
None of us argued with him. I was doomed and I knew it.
“Alright Ceecee, I dare you to poop in your pant-”
“HEY KIDS!” We all turned toward the door, and beyond it the sound of the boys’ mom calling for us.
“WE’RE IN THE TREEHOUSE!” James yelled back.
In a few seconds, Mrs. H was poking her head in the door. “What are y’all doing up here?” She spoke cheerily.
I tried to match her smile, only then realizing how fast my heart was beating.
“We were just about to play Go Fish.” James quickly snatched up the deck of cards.
“Jack’s mother just called, it’s time for him to go home.”
Jack got up, said goodbye, and left with Mrs. H.
“So where were we?” Tee tapped his finger on his chin.
“How about we play something else?” James was dealing out cards now.
Tee looked at me with annoyance, then to his brother, and finally back to me. I knew what he was thinking about; and I knew that James was doing everything he could to steer us away from it.
We hadn’t made it very far when their mom reappeared, making us all jump.
“Ms. Mercer says Jack came home wearing a diaper.” She looked at each of us in turn. “Who knows about this?”
James and I both shook our heads.
Tee gulped. “It was his idea,” he offered quietly.
“Come with me and explain that to Ms. Mercer.” Their mom didn’t sound happy at all.
Tee obeyed, and left the fort.
“And you two don’t know anything about this?” She looked longer at James, than at me.
Again, we both denied any knowledge of the fact. Even after their mom left, I kept my smile hidden. James was uncomfortable, but I was ecstatic. Tee was busted, totally busted. I wanted to jump and shout. No longer would I have to worry about him trying to make me wear a diaper. He’d probably be spanked by his dad and then grounded for the rest of his life.
James and I weren’t sure what game we should play next.
I didn’t particularly care, and was just happy not to be around Tee.
James was picking up the cards when we heard someone climbing the ladder.
“Hi guys, why didn’t you wait for me?” Tee asked, noticing the lack of Go Fish pile.
How is he back already? How is he back at all?
“What happened, Tee?” James stuttered. "What’d they say?
“Like I told you, it was his idea.”
“No, for real, what happened?” Even James didn’t buy it.
“That’s what I told them.” Tee said triumphantly, taking a seat. “Ms. Mercer said it sounded like something Jack would do anyway.”
James and I looked at each other dubiously.
“They told him to ask his parents next time.” Tee shrugged with mock ignorance. “So where were we?”
He looked at me and lowered his brow.
But how? It’s not fair! How can you just talk your way out of something like that?
I knew exactly where I was. I was right where he wanted me. If he could just talk his way out of something like that, he could talk his way out of anything. There was no hope for me. I remembered the dare, but I knew deep down, that was just the start.
Why’d I have to wear my favorite princess panties today of all days?
I probably wouldn’t be wearing them too much longer anyway.
I blinked in the red glow.
I had always been here. There wasn’t anywhere else. I couldn’t leave. I was born here, and I would die here.
Something was pounding at the back of my head, as if trying to remind me of something I’d forgotten. Someone was trying to nail signs to the inside of my brain, but I couldn’t read what they said.
BANG! BANG! BANG! BANG!
Oh shut up!
I’ll give you one more shot at this.
BANG! BANG! BANG!
My head jerked instinctively. That wasn’t in my head! That was real, and it was echoing from deep within the dark hallway. I tried to move, but found that my limbs would not obey.
Slowly, the sound grew closer. What had previously been a distant feeling, now seemed to be very close and very real. Staring forward, I also became aware that the star was significantly brighter and larger. It was so large now, that it covered the entire view from my window; no edge could be seen.
“Look!” I heard a male voice call from my left.
Footsteps banged on metal as they approached.
“He’s alive,” the young man said, standing in front of me. He was about my age with short, dark hair.
Two others joined him, both female. One seemed to be his partner, the other seemed different.
“It’s time to get up.” The first girl, his partner, a blonde; said as she looked out the window.
BEEP! BEEP! BEEP!
Something she was holding began sounding an alarm. All at once, I felt the light vanishing. I felt as though I was falling backward into a deep abyss. Quickly becoming engulfed in a dark haze, I panicked and threw myself forward. It was this motion that freed me from my paralysis. I stumbled on my feet and slammed into the glass. Tipping back again, I rubbed my forehead and looked around.
The three were standing around me, waiting. Taking the lead, the young man began running in the direction they came from. I followed, and we soon turned a corner I didn’t remember existing previously.
We all piled into a craft of some sort. I concluded that it was a spacecraft, as the only thing visible beyond the angular windows were thousands of stars. I was barely seated when we launched with a jolt. I turned around to see a dim rock floating behind us, rapidly shrinking.
“That’s an old outpost.” The man said. “Didn’t think we’d find anyone there.”
I didn’t reply.
“It’s a good thing we got you out before the burn.” The first girl said.
I continued to watch as I could now see the rock, my previous prison, silhouetted against the glow of the star. Surrounding it were dozens of other dark shapes which I took to be part of an asteroid field. They were all quickly diminishing, but the star remained at it the same relative size.
For a minute, I was confounded by the illusion, but quickly realized that it was merely a trick of perspective.
Or so I thought.
A murky blue planet passed beneath us. For only a split second, it stretched as far as I could see in all directions except above us. But it slipped past, half-eclipsing the star before shrinking like the asteroids; and ultimately vanishing into the red.
How fast are we going?
“Let’s get out of here, yeah?” The man said.
As he finished, the star almost instantly shrank and vanished. For a couple seconds, white specks all around us streaked toward the location previously occupied by the red star. But as quickly as they began to streak, they all stopped moving. The answer to my question was never voiced, but I had it nonetheless; very.
With all of that far behind us, I turned to see a new planet quickly approaching. Somehow, in nearly a blink, we had descended and landed. How exactly we were able to not disintegrate from entering atmosphere at such a speed, I made a note to ask at the next possible convenience.
My intention was all but forgotten as soon as I stepped out of the craft. We appeared to have landed in a bright and airy plaza. By the amount of other elaborate craft in the area, I figured this was a port of some kind. But instead of fueling stations or other industrial fixtures, each craft had a simple gray pad on which to land. People and their baggage were either waiting in groups, or were departing from a landed craft. Between the pads were rolling expanses of grass. Dotted with patches of flowers and the occasional tree, the hills rolled along lightly; carrying with them, winding sidewalks that meandered over their contours.
Though the terrain varied, all of the pads were at the same elevation, and the hills never peaked high enough that evidence of the next pad was entirely obscured. Mostly just the craft themselves, but sometimes I could see groups of people beyond the dividing green. Best I could tell, there were hundreds of pads stretching close to the width of the largest city I had ever previously seen.
The far edges of this port were encircled by impossibly huge towers. White, sweeping curves stretched up from the ground. Piercing several layers of cloud, they were ringed with golden balconies, and sparkled in the dazzling sunlight.
Thousands of stories in height, they were all curved. Each flowing with the utmost grace, some joined into the next, with arches that even the smallest of which would put all of our previous achievements to shame and mockery. At the edges of the balconies, I could see forests; yes, entire forests were growing atop these already staggeringly impressive buildings.
Between all of this wove an intricate pattern. Nearly out of sight, tiny specks were dancing across the sky from one horizon to the next. Closer to the ground, I saw similar, but more sparsely populated patterns; these wound their way between the towers. For a moment, I mistook them for insects. But upon closer inspection I found that they were actually flying craft. Occasionally, a vessel would swoop down from beyond my sight, and land on one of the nearby pads. The proximity would reveal the crafts to be of monstrous proportions; dwarfing even many of our towns. Yet they would soon ascend, disappearing into the cloud of other vessels; not a one of them made a sound or left a trace of their passing. The sky was clear, save for natural clouds, and was tinted by a deep and welcoming blue.
I was so taken by the awe, that I soon found I had to force my lungs to breathe. My gasping elicited a giggle from the first girl, and a shy grin from the other.
“So where are you from?” The blonde girl asked.
“And what were you doing on that decrepit outpost?” The young man added.
I took in breath. The air was sweet to my tongue, and rich in my lungs. If I was even a slave in this place, I would be happy beyond description.
“We left our home.” I marveled at my own ability to speak; more still at my faintly returning memory. “There were some New Arrivals, and we did not agree, so we left.”
I didn’t know where to start for describing my home. If I called it an ‘Earth’ with a ‘Sun,’ they’d take me for a total fool; every planet must have been called as such before others were discovered. Did they even know the other planets in our system? The dark-haired man did seem to recognize what I said, as his brow furrowed when I mentioned the New Arrivals.
He looked straight up, as if he was reading something in the sky.
“It appears that the threat you fled has long since been wiped out.” He leveled his sight with me. “That installation we found you in was constructed at the advent of their planetary campaign.”
“Yes, but it seems odd that we’d find you there.” The blonde girl spoke. “There’s only one record of its use, and that was a while ago.”
“Well, I got separated from my group, and that’s why I was stuck there.” I shrugged.
“Do you know anyone from the group?” She questioned further.
“Not by name, but there were four families.” I began to recall the distant memory.
She looked wide-eyed at her partner, then back to me.
“Did they make it?” I asked, worried that something horrible had happened.
“Um, yes. But…”
“But what?” I snapped a little quicker than I meant to.
“Well they landed on a nearby planet, colonized it, and populated it to the apex of its capacity.” She said slowly.
“So where is that planet?” This was becoming stranger by the second.
“Eventually, its orbit decayed, and it fell into its sun.” The man said solemnly.
“So wait, they all died?” My body was asking the questions on its own, as my mind was no longer up to the task.
“Yes, I’m afraid.” He hung his head.
“I thought you said they populated the planet to the max!?”
“They did.” The blonde girl continued. “But the planet just didn’t have the resources needed to achieve interplanetary travel.”
“Doesn’t that take a hell of a long time?” I asked, my brain had done a bit of math, and I didn’t like the numbers. “How long were they living there?”
“I think you mean to ask how long you were on that outpost.” The man said perceptively.
“Nail on the head, dude.” It was a little late to worry if sarcasm was appreciated in this place.
“Well, more important than the entire development of a planet is the fact that the star it orbited eventually grew old and died. That’s when we rescued you; just before it enveloped its entire system.”
I was going to ask why they hadn’t rescued the people on the planet; but I reasoned that in this age of whatever fantastic technology they had, it would’ve been mere child’s play. To have the capability and not use it; that said more than a book’s worth of knowledge. I looked at the young man, who seemed to be partially reading my thoughts.
“In time, we will understand this.” He spoke with a strange reverence.
“Do you at least know what kind of time warp I was stuck in?” My hopeful gaze danced between the less than reassuring faces.
“We are aware of none.” The blonde spoke.
I hoped that they had a good supply of whiskey on this planet, but my hopes were ill-founded, given the seemingly bountiful perfection, and thus, lack of need. My questions would remain unanswered.
“Okay, now what?” At the present, I didn’t find it hard to resign myself to living in absolute paradise. Especially if it only meant forgetting people I wasn’t very well acquainted with in the first place.
“Let’s get you paired and dressed.” The man said, beginning to walk in what I imagined to be a relevant direction.
“Dressed I understand…” I looked down at my clothes, which were apparently out of style by several eons, give or take a few. Though, they didn’t look too terribly out of place in this increasingly diverse crowd.
“Ah, you’re not aware of pairing.” The man grinned at me.
We presently entered one of the towers at its base. I marveled once again at the construction. Curved supports arched far above our heads. White like the exterior, they had an organic feel as if this was simply a natural occurrence rather than a deliberate construct of human design. Light poured in from lofty windows that stretched the expanses between the rib-like supports.
At our level and far above us, across spindly bridges, people moved about constantly. Despite the vast multitudes, it wasn’t crowded; instead, everything seemed to flow smoothly. There was no evidence of people bumping or jostling one another. Like the flying craft outside, they followed an intricate pattern that was far beyond my comprehension.
“Come on, let’s get you two something you like.” The man spoke cheerily, taking the lead again as we worked our way through the glistening sea of people.
And glistening they were. Costumes of every description worn by people of matching diversity, spread across the entire space. Long flowing robes, skin tight suits, bulky furs; vibrant primaries, neon glows, rich earthy tones, and even sparkling jewels. It all began to remind me of the conventions we used to have. Except now, instead of being a mish-mash of colliding interests, their apparel seemed perfectly natural. Everything of every description was worn by anyone who chose such. What would appropriate for a specific gender, country, or even time, was now worn by anyone. Any yet, somehow, it didn’t look wrong or weird.
Perhaps that had nothing to do with the clothes at all. Perhaps the harmony was not woven by the threads of their cloth, but by their personal appearance. As we moved through the crowd, I could not for all my searching, find a single frown or scowl. Not a one of them looked upset or even disinterested. Each person smiled, looking forward, intent and focused on their destination; whatever it may be.
Their happiness was contagious it seemed; and as we traveled, I found myself grinning, and moving with an ease that I thought I had long-since lost. It was then that I studied them even closer. Their smiles were only one small part of their appearance. It wasn’t forced or painted, each smile was a natural extension of the manner with which they carried themselves. There was no shuffling of feet, no dawdling, no hobbling; in fact, I couldn’t spot a single person that looked any less physically fit than was needed to run a marathon. Size and build varied as much as their garb, but each seemed to be perfected in their capability. Everyone walked easily, with light feet on strong legs that could likely carry them tirelessly for days.
There was something deep within these people that fueled their perfection. An inner fire that blazed unrestricted, lifting each head, and brightening their eyes. They possessed a joy that burned within, not just an outward appearance of happiness. Again, I found it contagious, and breathed deeply of the rich air as we approached the farthest reach of the vast atrium.
We stopped in front of what seemed to be a costume shop. If it were possible to call anything ‘out of place,’ this would be the closest to that reach. I had to admit that most of what I saw looked very familiar, and amused me inwardly at its comparatively alien nature. The windows of this shop had many outfits from my era, and from the many ages of history in my previous home. Suits of armor, Victorian dresses, Roman Toga, even clothes from the American west. It seemed that the young man had brought me to a place where I would find something that might match where I came from.
“This is okay, right?” The young man asked over his shoulder as we entered.
I mumbled confirmation as I followed.
“You can pick anything you like.” He spoke nonchalantly; but I knew his words to be extensively truthful.
“But,” I began, realizing a glaring flaw. “How will I pay for this?”
The young man chuckled merrily. “We each contribute as we are capable. What is not hoarded in excess, need not be withheld behind a premium.”
I remained silent.
“Take what you like, it’s there for you to have.” He finished with a warming smile.
Surely, I would need to have the economy of this place explained in full. But for now, it I concluded that there was no currency. In fact, I noticed that I saw no one with a purse or wallet chain, on our trip over; and that there had been no counter or register to greet us when we entered. For a second, I had a mental glimpse of this world. No currency, no identification, no clutter of documents or accounts. Each person was simply themselves. Each day, a person might awaken, don whatever suited their fancy, and make their way to a place where contribution was needed. With everyone fit and able, physical labor would hardly be a chore, but rather a practice kept in place to allow people to better themselves in their trade, or simply to exercise.
I couldn’t see this being a society where all tasks were automated by machine. Surely that phase had been conquered long ago, and left behind like our dark ages. No, these people were far too wise to let automation lull them into complacency and laziness. In their vast learning, they had concluded that removing the need for work was not the pinnacle of success. Instead, a willing and capable populous could easily overcome any task.
The young man looked at me knowingly, confirming my speculation to an extent. I found myself eager to settle down in this world, and find a way to make my own contribution to its perfection. I regretted that it would only be minuscule.
“Since you both are not from here, how about you two become a pair?” The blonde girl suggested.
I caught a hint of what she meant, but chose to let them explain further.
“I was thinking the same thing.” The young man agreed, turning to me. “You see, she’s like you.” He motioned to the second girl.
She had been with us the whole time, but had said nothing. Something about her had indeed seemed different, but I was too distracted by the constant stream of wonders to put any thought toward her. Now though, I realized that she had been stealing curious glances in my direction. She had shoulder-length brown hair, a lock of which fell in front of one half of her face, partially obscuring a shy grin. A simple forest green shirt and blue jeans told me that she was probably from a world like mine. She stood a couple inches shorter than the blonde girl, and had her arms crossed in front of her.
“She’s been waiting for one like you; like her.” The man continued. “Her world is gone, like yours, and she’s alone, like you.”
The shy girl blushed at me, giving a quick wave, before crossing her arms once again.
“You should stay with her, you two seem like a great match.” The blonde smiled at me, the short girl mimicked the smile. “She needs someone, and you should not be alone either.”
I felt unworthy. I began to doubt their perception. Surely they wouldn’t just leave me with an innocent creature like this girl. Surely they wouldn’t just assume me to be trustworthy. I began to wonder where we might stay, or how I would provide for her.
“Do not worry.” The blonde spoke softly. “We know you’ll do your best.”
“That’s right,” the young man nodded agreement. “We’ll find you a residence and help you get settled.”
The brown-haired girl stepped toward me. Was it just that easy? I knew nothing about her, and she knew nothing about me. But somehow, I felt that we would make this work.
“But before we do that, why don’t you pick out some new clothes.” The young man gestured across the store. “Whatever makes you comfortable.”
I began to walk down the main aisle, the girl walking beside me, the other two following behind. The girl didn’t say anything, but looked at me expectantly.
“She doesn’t say much.” I heard the young man say. “Maybe you should help her pick something out.”
Yeah, no kidding. She hasn’t said a single word this whole time.
For a few minutes, we wandered the aisles. I was contemplating exactly what to get. If I was right, and everything was acceptable, then it was merely a matter of preference. It occurred to me that we could just as easily pick something different at a later time, but I still wanted to pick out something nice.
Conveniently, thought not surprising, I found a collection of appealing but varied clothing. As if tailored to me alone, I found what looked like an assortment of casual clothing from my time; nothing looked too fancy or too shabby.
I snatched a pair of tan corduroy jeans, and a light-gray hoodie. These matched almost identically the ones I remembered from my home. Much as I wanted to try something new, I just couldn’t pass up the overwhelming nostalgia. Without checking, I trusted them to be sized correctly, and felt confident in my assumption.
Once again, I found a lapse in orderly sorting that instead lent itself to personal convenience. Right next to the rack from which I picked my clothes, were several appealing ladies outfits. The first one on the rack was also the only one I bothered to look at; I liked it right away.
It was a traditional Irish dancing dress. The emerald silk was embroidered with golden thread that wove intricate designs across the chest, and around the hem of the short skirt. I pulled it from the rack, and turned to the girl at my side. She smiled widely and took the dress. For a second, I couldn’t imagine any cuter an outfit on her. But that second was a short one.
Over her shoulder, I spotted something on the next rack; something that would answer my question about acceptance. Even if I had been told to pick anything I liked, I still had my doubts about the extent. This; this would prove it, one way or another.
On the rack hung several familiar looking garments. Once again, I had no doubt about the correct sizing. I picked one and studied it in my hand. It was an adult or youth sized cloth diaper. White all over, it had velcro tabs and an opening at the back for inserting extra padding. I speculated at the necessity of such an opening, as it appeared to already have a significant amount of padding. I guessed that garments like these were probably only for fashion; I couldn’t imagine them being needed in such a perfect and healthy society. Nonetheless, they were adorably cute, and even had ruffled leg cuffs.
I turned back to the girl and hesitated. Would she be okay with this? Was this common on her world, or forbidden? Did she even know what these were used for on mine? I looked at her, then to the other two. No one said a word.
I slowly held out the diaper, anxiously waiting for her response. To my surprise, she accepted it with a smile. Then, to my further confusion, she reached past me and grabbed another one from the rack. For a moment, she eyed both in her hands; the dress draped over her shoulder. Raising her head, she looked at me and held out the one she had grabbed from the rack.
I stood dumbfounded for a second. Did she want me to put it back?
Sensing my confusion, she laid the diaper on my arm, atop the other clothes I had picked for myself. I understood.
I put my hand on hers and smiled; she returned my smile.
“Is this what you want?” The young man asked.
My eyes never left the girl in front of me; neither of us so much as blinked. “Yes,” I answered with complete sincerity. There were no loopholes to the question, no possible way to twist it, that would change my answer. My mind raced, trying to find a flaw. My inner cynic searched frantically for something to feed off of, but came up empty and vanished without a trace.
“Then we’re done here.”
I blinked in the piercing light. Groggy and aching, I rolled over, away from my window, and away from the stabbing morning sun.
I grumbled and reached for my phone.
I had missed my alarm.
I felt clammy and wet, something smelled bad, and I realized that I hadn’t just been sweating.
The dream began to vanish. Not from memory, but from grasp. Like sand between my fingers, it spilled through and scattered across the floor. Sinking into the carpet, it became obscured from sight. I knew it was still there, but I could not so much as pick up a single grain, if only to confirm its existence.
Tears blurred my already poor vision as I stumbled out of bed. I stood in a mental stupor for a moment, trying to select an appropriate emotion with which to react. My bed stunk and so did I.
It took the better part of a minute before I felt the pain. Blood was coagulating on my knuckles by the time I had stripped myself and my bed.
I’d have to patch the hole in the drywall later.