Jan. 9th, 2012

applespice: it is a sparkly fairy ([pretty] twilight)
It shouldn’t have happened. That’s all anyone could say afterward, as if that absolved them of their part. As far as Neda could tell, it should indeed have happened – in fact, it should have happened much sooner than it did.

Try telling that to them, though. They were secretly pleased to carry the burden of survival – to shake their heads wearily and sigh that the sins of others had brought them to this place. Every once in awhile there was an article in the paper about it, over which everyone could nod sorrowfully and say, “Those poor people. It shouldn’t have happened,” all the while implying that they should have known better.

They didn’t want to share the fault because they’d feel too guilty about it, Neda knew. Guilty that they’d survived, could read the paper and think about what had happened to everyone else. It was easier to think that the others had brought it on themselves somehow, and easier still to disguise that traitorous thought with pity. She understood, but it frustrated her - she felt guilty all the time. Sometimes it seemed as though all the guilt they’d pushed out of their hearts had landed squarely in hers, a heavy black malignancy that festered there and made her chest ache.

So unlike everyone else, she avoided people. She couldn’t bear to join them in the constant cycle of reassurance, the carefully crafted untruthing, so she ventured out into silent streets rather than face their smiles and the gentle pressing of their hands. Out and out, past the crumbling fringe houses – right up to the edge of the glass. Every day she went, tracing her finger along the cool edge and looking out into the world that was.

Until one day she saw it.

The tiny silver spidering, barely an inch.

The crack.

The Glass House was meant to withstand anything. It was the only reason any of them were alive when the rest of the world was dead. A completely self-sustaining ecosystem - five square miles enclosed in glass. A small town, farmland, and pens for livestock. Purified air circulated under the glass while ash drifted down beyond. The world outside sickened and died, but inside the Glass House people lived life as usual.

Neda had lived in the House her whole life. It was an experiment, her parents said. To see if the House was a viable solution in case of nuclear war. Nobody expected it to last. People shifted in and out – mostly out – as Neda grew up, but her parents were steadfast. “There isn’t enough data,” they said. “Not yet. We have to stay.”

When Neda was thirteen, the rumors began. War. Nukes. Fallout. More people began arriving at the House, some of them with carloads of possessions and extended relations. Some of those who had left years before returned, shamefaced. Eventually, they had to close the doors. “There’s no more room,” the townspeople said. Her parents shook their heads, angry.

“There are houses on the edge of town,” her father said. “They’re run down, but we could make them livable.”

“They’re scared,” her mother replied. “They’re scared there won’t be enough food to go around.”

Neda offered to share her bedroom – she would even sleep on the floor. Inwardly, she entertained the thought of a sister. Almost all of her friends had moved away and she was lonely. She would sleep on the floor if she only had someone to talk to. But though her parents smiled at her, no sister ever arrived.

And then came the day that everyone had feared – the one everyone said would never happen. The day the sky itself burned. The airtight seal on the door was activated and everyone gathered at the edge of the glass, their hands pressed over their mouths in horror.

On the outside, people gathered, too. They screamed and beat their fists against the glass. They held their children in the air, begging, weeping. Some had faces contorted with anger and they raged unheard, their clawed hands tearing at the sky and their eyes dark with hate and fear.

Eventually, they left. Their faces had grown blank. Their arms hung limp at their sides. Stumbling, they faded into the distance, their diminishing figures fogged by falling ash. Many of the townspeople had drifted away by then, but Neda stood until the last defeated figure disappeared. She was fourteen.

It had been two years since that day. The population of the Glass House was fifteen hundred people – maybe the last fifteen hundred people left anywhere – and Neda couldn’t stand any of them. Her parents chalked it up to typical teenage angst, but Neda couldn’t imagine anything less typical than her situation. She was sixteen years old and the world had ended. There was nowhere else to go, no one else to meet. No more choices.

So she rebelled in the only way she could, by hiding away from everyone. By facing the world outside, while so many others hid at the center of town and kept their eyes averted from the waste beyond the glass. She often imagined what the world would be like out there, silent and gray and empty. She fantasized about exploring it, rooting through the rubble of the old cities and discovering treasures no one else would ever see. It both frightened and excited her.

And then she found the crack. It started on the other side; the dead side. When she tried to touch it, the glass felt as smooth and flawless as ever. She wondered what could have possibly caused it. Her heart beat faster the more she stared. She couldn’t imagine such a tiny flaw having any noticeable effect, but it captivated her.

Every day she returned to the crack, her fingers rubbing over the smooth glass of her side. It was her secret place, where all of the flaws and the faults of the Glass House could be distilled into one tiny fracture in the glass.

And with time, she noticed that it was changing. Growing. Bit by bit, almost too imperceptibly to notice, the crack was lengthening.

Neda knew she should tell someone, but some strange darkness in her seemed to rise up and stop her mouth every time she planned it. Nothing good could come of it. Either everyone would be terrified or they would insist that there was nothing to worry about, and in either case the importance of it would be ruined. So she kept her secret and continued to visit the crack every day, each time afraid and interested to see how it had grown.

After six months, the crack was nearly five inches in length. It seemed to be deepening as well, reaching spindle fingers toward her. Every day her uneasiness grew, but every night she kept her silence at the dinner table and everyone carried on as usual.

And then someone spotted the Outsider.

They had all settled down to eat dinner when there was a frenzied knocking on the door. Neda’s father leapt up to answer. It was Gary Kellman, who was two years older than Neda and had once asked her to a dance when she was eleven and the kids still went to school.

“There’s someone out there!” He was gasping, his fingers clutching a stitch in his side. “On the other side!”

There hadn’t been anyone seen Outside for over almost two years. Without speaking, Neda and her parents followed Gary down the street, toward the edge of town.

“Ella spotted him,” Gary said as they rushed along. “When she was out checking the sheep.”

Others were being roused out of their homes now, and there was a steady stream of people hurrying toward the glass wall. Who could say what urged them? Perhaps only the chance to see a stranger’s face, after so much time with only each other.

At the glass they fanned out, searching the twilight haze. And then Neda saw him, fuzzy in the glare of the lights from the House. While the others stayed back, a good five feet from the glass, she felt herself walking forward, approaching the phantom in the world that was dead.

He was thin – impossibly thin – and his skin was bone-white where it wasn’t broken by bloody sores. Maybe he had survived by holing up in a cave somewhere and thought it was finally safe to come out. Maybe he was just looking for something to eat. His clothes were so rotten that they were nearly nonexistent, and his fingers looked as though he had been chewing on them.

When he opened his mouth, what teeth he had left were weakly anchored in gums that ran with blood and pus. He had no strength to beat against the glass – he only spoke, with his eyes trained unerringly on Neda’s, unaware that she couldn’t hear a word he said. His eyes were as blue as the sky had once been, bright and beautiful in that ruined face.

The man stopped speaking. Perhaps he had known all along that she couldn’t hear him, but couldn’t stop himself from speaking to another human face. He did not look hopeful, or defeated, or angry – only sorrowful. He knew that they would not let him in.

Neda lifted her hand and pressed it to the glass. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, not feeling the tears that ran down her cheeks. He put his hand up against the glass on the other side of hers and smiled sadly, then turned and hobbled painfully away. Behind her, the people of the Glass House stood silently until he disappeared.

“Poor man,” someone murmured. “How did he manage for so long?”

“Underground, probably,” came another voice.

“Well, why didn’t he stay there?”

“They don’t know.” A quivering note of sympathy. “They don’t know, these poor fools. He probably thought it was safe.”

“It’s too bad. It’s just too bad. If only there had been more places like this. If only people had listened.”

And there it was again. Those poor people and it shouldn’t have happened. The dark tumor of guilt that had grown up around Neda’s heart throbbed painfully, angrily. When she spoke, they didn’t hear her at first, but as she quietly repeated the words voice after voice fell still in the wake of them.

“There’s a crack in the wall.”

Until there was nothing but her voice in the falling darkness. And when she turned to go, one by one they followed her, a silent entourage to the source of her doomsaying. And as she walked, Neda knew what they were thinking.

It can’t be true. It shouldn’t have happened. It was all they knew, those poor people. And she pitied them as she led them to see the instrument of their fate.

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applespice: it is a sparkly fairy (Default)
How About Them Apples?

June 2015

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