The WallEmptiness. Hollowness. Like you're trapped in a glass bottle. Like the whole world is a glass bottle. That's what I feel right now, as I smile and laugh with my friends. The laughter grates and cuts me. It feels so dead-cold. So dead-cold like fake green grass. Like everything.
I lick off the ice cream on my spoon. It's too sweet, too cold, and too chocolate. More flavours than I can name dance across my mouth. And I am surrounded by people. But I feel alone.
All I have is this ice cream in its swirling mass of colours, this sunlight that doesn't seem real, these seats that are soft and plush and warmed but hard and cold anyways as they dig into my thighs and back.
There is music going on in the background. But it doesn't mean anything. Not really. Sure the words tell a story about lost love and vengeful rage. But that doesn't really mean anything. I don't know why.
I drift through my thoughts as I stare idly at the paintings on the walls. They whir with colour. So much colour. They don't feel like home. Nothing feels like home. Not even my own thoughts.
I take another bite out of the bowl of ice cream lying before me. Look at the crystal vase of flowers in the middle of the table. The flowers look like they're bleeding. Cut from their stems and alien and sharp and sorrowful. But at the end of it all they look hollow.
I have questions in my mind. Questions I can't ask in this restaurant booth, with its black tourmaline embedded into the booths and fake stars shining as lights from the ceiling. Questions I can't ask in this company. All too-bright, distant smiles and too-crowded, suffocating embraces and too-happy, hollow eyes. They feel joy. Saccharine sweet joy. And I feel joy too. But the joy feels fake.
We laugh at a joke and the laugh comes from my chest but my chest is empty, there is nothing. I don't know how I can laugh at this joke. I don't know how I can't laugh at it. I don't know how I can laugh at all. I don't know how I can go a single day in my life without laughing. Part of me wants to sigh but the sigh won't come.
Fake fire made of coloured crystal rises bending and arching from the floor to line the walls. It's beautiful. So beautiful. The way an empty white paper plate is beautiful. Like the way a knife sliding down your rib cage is beautiful.
There is so much beauty all around me. And I can see all of it. But I can see none of it. There are so many people around me. But I can feel none of them. I'm lost. Lost from even myself. I don't know what I want.
"Do you want to order some garlic fries to go?" My friend asks us. I love garlic fries. But not really. But I answer yes anyways. Part of me thinks it will be fun. Part of me thinks there's nothing else to say.
We walk down the sunny, busy streets with paper bags full of clothes in our hands. So many clothes. So many of them were lovingly picked out for me. I wish I could throw them all away. Burn them in a fire and pour the ashes down the sink and see what's left after that. What's left of myself after layer after layer after layer of fabric and skin is peeled off.
We talk and there are kiosks of people selling toys and trinkets. I stare at everything as if wanting to commit it all to memory. I stare through everything as if I'm seeing nothing at all. My friend buys something expensive. Something robotic. Some line of plastic penguins sliding and dancing around an icy hillside. You can barely tell that it's plastic. It's glaringly obvious that it's plastic. The world is plastic. Everything is plastic. Everyone is plastic.
I'm exhausted as we walk to the movie theatre. But I'm also brimming with energy. I forget whose plan it was to go watch a movie. I only want to go home. But I want to watch the movie. They say a movie theatre is an experience unlike any other. That it envelops you. But it's an experience just like every other. Crowded and filled and brimming and abjectly empty.
I sit in my seat. And it's softness digs into my body hard and uncaring. These are leather seats. Well-maintained. I can tell that they're expensive. Like everything else in this world. Everything is so expensive that it's common and used and cheap.
Everything is made painstakingly with the best of everything. Everything is so easy to overlook and so easy to get sucked into.
The movie is not about anything. Well, no, that's a lie. It's about a family that is torn apart by some sort of war and so the girl goes on a mission to find everyone again. But it feels like nothing. The story is just going through the motions. Without any heart.
After the movie the Saturday is almost over. We exchange kisses. They're soppy and too wet. I wipe the lipgloss from my cheeks with the wipes from my leather purse. The purse that's as light blue as the sky but nothing like the sky at all.
I look up at the twilight-dark sky and I see a brief flash of /something./ The sky has secrets. I know that the sky has secrets. I know it deep inside the core of me, deeper than I can ever reach. I just don't know what those secrets are.
I go to my car that's sleek with no scratches at all on it's new coat of shiny paint. It sits like a squat beast with no soul, staring back at me as I press the key into the silvery lock. I get on and I drive down the busy highways teeming with crawling beasts of vehicles. A ribbon of many colours. Of hard, metallic screaming.
I open the stained glass door that leads to my cavernous house. It's a house that eats me whole every time I enter it. Digests me slowly every second I spend within it. Spits me out every time I leave it. I duck and weave through all the furniture and ornaments and rugs and curtains. Up the cool glass staircase to my room.
My mother and father greet me. I greet them back. Every day they go through the motions of being my parents. And I go through the motions of being their child. Their petulant, rebellious teenager. As sullen and prickly as all other teenagers are. I lock the door to my room and I knock offs the lights.
I sink into my bed because that's the only place I have to sink into. And it's too soft. It chokes me, suffocates me all over with its cloying softness. I look out towards the city lights. The twilight is fading away and the city is glowing like a jar of fireflies. I've never seen fireflies. It's just how I've heard people describe it. I don't know how accurate that description is or isn't. I look past the lights that have no warmth and up towards the sky that has no stars. It all leaves me so very deeply unsatisfied. I look beyond all of it to the city Wall. The Wall that keeps everything and everyone inside.
And for the millionth time I wonder, what could possibly lie beyond those great, thick walls. What are they walling us in from? What are they locking us away from? My mind dives through these waters until sleep envelops me. Warm and soft like a mother holding a child. Though my mother has never been thus.
I wake up and I brush my teeth. The toothpaste is too minty and it leaves my mouth feeling artificial. Then I shower. And the water is the perfect temperature. Kept this way by sensors in the shower. And it drowns me. Sheet after sheet of water that I could spend all day in and desperately want to escape. I run my body over with soap. And it lathers luxuriously and leaves me feeling smooth and fake and plastic. I wax my legs. And my arms. And for a brief moment the pain makes me feel the faintest shadow of something. And then I apply a sugar scrub all over my body and that artificial feeling once again takes over. I make my skin and hair soft with oils and creams. And I step out into the gaping, steaming bathroom.
I hide my face with foundation. Drown out my eyes with mascara and eyeliner and eye shadow. Shadow over the natural cut of my face with contour. I hide my lips with lipstick and apply a fake sheen with lipgloss. I look like a doll. I feel like a doll. All people are dolls. All there is is dolls.
I put my doll body into doll clothes. The type that shows off my legs and my shoulders and my breasts. The type that everyone encourages me to wear. They want me to get a boyfriend. They don't know that I already have one. More than one.
I hide the natural droop of my hair with a curling iron and after all of everything I am finally, finally, finally ready.
I gather up my books into my backpack, and my sparkly notebooks and my fluff-topped pens. And I sigh as I swing it over my shoulder. I don't know how I'll endure another day. I don't know what else to ask for. I don't know what I want. But I know it's not another day of school.
But I walk to my car again. And I begin. I drive. Past the low ache in my head and the wrong feeling in my gut and to the high, bright, well-lit hallways lined with motivational posters and yearbook photos.
I sit in class after class after class after class. Subject after subject after subject after subject. Doing my best to listen. To learn. I don't know why I'm listening. I don't know why I'm learning. Of course I do know why I'm listening and learning. To get a job. To make money. To buy things. Many things. A house and a car and restaurants visits and vacations. My head throbs. I can't concentrate. I can never concentrate.
At lunch I sit at the tables and I talk. About dresses and vacations and television shows and dream homes and nothing.
After lunch I sit in class and I wonder why I'm doing all of this.
But once class finally ends I can breathe, just a little bit. I tell my friends that I'm going to a club meeting. I secretly climb the spruce tree behind the school. I tumble onto the roof of the school. The lower roof. I duck behind a raised up block of concrete. To the little alley made by the block and the wall beside it. And there in the silence and the stillness of a world hidden from the world I meet my boyfriends. In secret.
Marcus and Elliot. They're kind. They're rebellious. They're perfect. I kiss each of them in turn. We sit down on the concrete that's always too hot to properly be comfortable on. I love it.
"I don't know. I don't know what I want." Marcus throws his hands up and looks at the sky.
"The world is perfect. It's beautiful. So why am I so unsatisfied?" Elliot rubs his hands through his thick, dark curls.
"I just don't know what the point of being alive is." I stare at an ant crawling up the wall.
"Do you want to not live?" Elliot looks at me with wide eyes.
"No, no. Actually. I don't know. I feel happy-bright-cheery. But I also feel so. Dead."
"I hear you," Marcus echoes in a tired tone. "There's so much but it's never enough but whatever you do you can't make it enough."
"Well said. Marcus I can't talk to anybody about this. Nobody but you and Elliot. Thank you for understanding."
"Hey I don't understand anything." Elliot lies down. "But maybe I'm trying to. I don't know." He runs his hand rhythmically through my blond curls. It's the most soothing feeling I've had in a while.
"Maybe we'll find something more. Something better." Marcus half-whisphers this.
"Maybe we will," I echo.
We keep talking until the sun goes down. I'm dehydrated and sweaty and the happiest I've been in a while.
I go home and shower. And the water is the perfect temperature. And it makes everything feel numb again.
I wake up to the soft, lilting music that scrapes through my ears. I get ready to go to school. But I just can't force myself to go today. I just can't do it all again. Not when I can't convince myself that it's for a purpose. So I get my bag and wander around aimlessly through the city.
Every shop and restaurant and studio and whatnot is tailored to be eye-catching and attention-grabbing. And the trees and flowers that line the road are designed to be beautiful. But nothing catches my interest as I walk in silence, headphones off. I get a lot of curious glances, walking with my backpack, no headphones, and no company. I find myself drifting off in thoughts of discontent.
I end up face to face with the Wall. The Wall that keeps the city closed in. There's nothing beyond the Wall, all the teachers told us this over and over and over again. Nothing but empty wasteland. The textbooks told us this again and again as well. That there is nothing beyond the Wall. But I can't help but feel pulled to it. Maybe it's the pull of the void. But maybe it's something else.
If there was truly nothing beyond the Wall surely they wouldn't build a wall.
There are barely any people this far out. The streets are dusty and occasionally a piece of sidewalk is broken. It's still all too much. But amidst boarded up windows and perching seagulls I almost feel safe. The closest to safe I have felt in a while without the company of Elliot and Marcus. I wish they were here.
The Wall would be beautiful if it was better maintained. All along its vast stretch scenes are painted in half-peeled paint. Artists without names whose work will dissolve into nothingness. It's just as well, I think. If the Wall was beautiful I don't think I could bear it. I don't think anyone in this vast and sparkling city could. I wish Marcus and Elliot were here.
I end up messaging them on my phone. They can't get out of school. But they can meet me after. I pace back and forth and back and forth. It's twilight by the time they show up. But we're teenagers. We can stay out all night and no-one will bat an eye.
They ask me how I'm doing. They ask me what I'm doing. They ask me why I'm here. Marcus smiles at me with that soft smile of his. Elliot questions with his big, dark eyes.
The answer I give surprises everyone, including me.
"I want to go beyond the Wall."
We're all silent for moments or maybe hours. Taking that in.
"You can't go beyond the Wall," Elliot tells me.
"And why not?" I ask, agitated.
"Because there's nothing there."
"I'm sorry but I have to agree with him," Marcus says. I feel more betrayed than I've ever felt in my life.
"Well I am going. You two can come with me or you can stay here but I'm getting out of this godforsaken city." I turn around. Steel myself in resolve. Make sure they can't see me cry. And I run off.
"Wait! Taylor!" Marcus calls out after me.
"What?!" I choke out through sobs.
"I'm sorry but it's dangerous. I don't want you to get hurt."
"Do you want me to spend the rest of my life in this city? Where everything is perfect and beautiful and empty and cold?" I turn around. And I see that Elliot is crying as well.
"I care about your happiness," Elliot asservates, "but I can't let you get hurt."
"Do you care about my happiness? Do you really? Because I used to think that you did but now I'm not sure."
"Taylor. Please. We don't want you to get hurt."
"Well it's my decision what I do. You guys can come along or you can stay but you can't stop me."
I've made my decision. I walk into the night.
I start thinking of ways to break the Wall. It's an impossible task. But I have to do it anyways. The night glows dark and eerie around me. The city is less powerful here. Less crowded and glittering. I don't notice it. I don't notice my surroundings at all. My mind is racing in one direction and one direction only.
I almost don't notice my phone buzzing in my pocket. But I get it out and I check it nonetheless. It's our group chat.
/We can't stand staying here either. We're coming with you./ - Marcus
/Sorry for being a duffler./ - Elliot.
/Meet you at the end of Occipital Road. Tomorrow evening./ - Me.
/Perfect./ - Marcus.
For the first time in my entire life I have a sense of purpose.
I go to school and I focus on nothing. Not the beautiful paintings and diagrams on the walls. Not the sculptures that line the windows. Not the students in bright, new clothes and styled hair. Not the teachers teaching who knows what. Not the conversation that drifts around me. Not my friends who ask why I'm being so rude. I only notice that I have to meet my loves at the end of the day. And I have a purpose. For the first time in my life.
Everything feels faded around me. It still all feels overwhelming, feels like too much. But not as much as it used to be. My whole soul feels like it's coiled in wait, ready to spring into the sky that isn't truly blue. I feel like I am walking into the sky, as the seconds tick down one by one and I count each and every one of them.
People comment on my sloppy makeup, on my messy hair. I do not care. I barely hear them. Who are they to me anyways? Simply people who will never understand. Who never need to understand. I can live my life without caring about what they think.
After school I slip my backpack on my back and have to prevent myself from running out the doors. I can't be seen to be rushing. Suspicion is already on me anyways. I can do this one thing to keep eyes off me, I can walk like a normal person ready to go about their normal day.
And I do walk like a normal person. I walk past shop after shop after shop with their large windows and sidewalk displays. I walk past kiosk after kiosk selling things. I walk past restaurants with glittering signs and bars that would probably allow me in and cafes with sweet aromas. I walk past virtual reality stations and movie theatres and dance studios and art classes and indoor playgrounds and exit rooms and museums and art galleries and haunted houses and dance halls and so many more bits of the city.
I don't see any of them. I don't want to see any of them. I only see the way the avenues go down and down and down as I walk towards the west end of Occipital Road.
I hope no-one is looking at me. My makeup and hair is less easy to notice under the bright harsh light of the daylight outside. I melt into the crowd as I chew on my anxiety. Just another teenaged girl with a backpack taking a walk after school. Not anyone who wants to cause trouble. Not anyone who will cause any sort of trouble at all.
I think about calling Elliot or Marcus. But what will I say to them? I want to say it all. But I can't. Not here. It's too dangerous. But if I start talking to them I don't think I'll be able to stop myself from blurting our everything in a rush of excitement. I can barely keep my emotions as contained as they are. They bang against the dam I've built inside me, wanting to rush out in an unrestrained torrent of hope and dreams and not knowing and glory. I think about texting my boyfriends. But I don't think I'd be able to stop the mischief and danger that would light my smile if I did.
Best to wait until we get to the Wall. The monolith that everyone is too scared to go near. The behemoth that keeps the streets directly around it empty save for occasional stragglers. Occasional stragglers like us.
As I get closer and closer to the Wall my heart pounds harder and harder in my chest. Until I'm dead afraid that everyone can hear the way that it thuds and bangs inside my rib cage. Until I'm afraid that it will break out of my rib cage and spill onto the streets in a stream of not-really-red.
I don't even have a plan yet. I don't even know if what I'm doing is remotely possible. There's no way that it can be possible. Not with how thick and high the Wall is. Not with the way it extends up and up and up into the sky. Not with the way everyone fears it. Nobody has ever even considered it a possibility that the Wall can be passable. Not from anything I've ever heard.
But I know it's possible. I don't know how I know. I don't know for what reason I know this. I don't think there is a reason. I just know deep in the marrow of my bones that it is possible. I know beyond reason. Beyond logic. Beyond any sanity or sense. I know with a certainty with which I have never known anything before. With a surety that I have never felt about anything. Beneath my bones, beneath my heart, beneath my soul, there is the knowledge that the Wall can be passed. This knowledge is so intermixed with hope and yearning that the yearning is part of the surety and the surety is part of the hope. It all lives together inside me and blends into every part of me until I think it forms the very foundation of my being. I don't know where I end and where hope begins.
I have never felt such hope before. It's more beautiful than anything that can be seen or heard or touched or tasted. It's more intense than anything that I knew existed. I've never known true intensity before this. But the intensity is so much that it's eating me up inside and leaving me silently screaming in maddened glee.
I don't think I have a single shred of sanity left in me anymore. I don't think I can ever go back to being what I was before all of this happened. I don't think I can ever go back to that life. Full of things and fun and dancing and fullness and emptiness. I would rather die first. I would rather die.
Death is much like the Wall. It's terrifying. Daunting. Nobody thinks of it. Nobody speaks of it. Nobody goes near it. But it looms ever present at the edges of our existence. And no one knows what lies beyond. But at the end of the day it offers an escape from the city and all its excesses. I never was afraid of death. In the same way that I never was afraid of the Wall. I've told nobody but Marcus and Elliot this, but I've always looked at death with a secret sort of curiosity and a mute sort of yearning.
But I am bolder now. I will never be silent anymore. I will never be pushed down into conformity.
Conformity. I never knew how present it was in the city before now. Sure there is great diversity. So many colours and patterns and styles. But at the end of the day it's all the same. Beyond the surface level it's all the same. It's all thoughtless, heartless, never ending revelry of which I was never properly a part.
And so I will run.
The crowds are thinning and that is doing much to quell my anxiety. I'm more afraid of the people of the city than I am of the Wall. But each step that I take closer to the Wall I grow more scared anyways. Not of the Wall itself, no, but of being discovered. Yet each step I take closer to the Wall I grow more infatuated and more addicted. It's all too much.
My heart cheers relieved as I step behind an abandoned building at the end of Occipital Road, at the base of the Wall. Unnoticed and unbothered I slip there. And finally there is silence. Finally there is stillness.
I fall down upon the hard, rough, concrete ground. I relish how hard and rough it is against my thighs. I lie on my back and look up at the sky. And against my better judgement I let it lull me to sleep.
"Taylor," a soft voice pokes in to my dreamlessness. I look up and see Elliot kneeling over me. I see the dark blue of twilight. And I see Marcus crouched down on my other side. My heart sings.
"You came," is all I can say.
"We sure did," Elliot replies. "We wouldn't leave you to leave this city all by yourself." His voice is soft like a whisper. Soaring like a little bird.
"I love you both."
"I love you both as well."
They help me up and I brush away the bits of rock that dug into my arms and legs.
"So what now?" I ask.
"We hope," Marcus replies.
"And we run," Elliot whispers. "This is our chance."
We take to walking beside the Wall. It towers over us, so obscenely large. I never knew how large it was until now. I tell them this.
"Do you fear it?" Elliot asks.
"I don't," Marcus answers, "It gives me hope. I know there's something on the other side. There must be." His voice is both questioning and sure.
"We'll get there," I press, "I promise you guys that we'll get there."
"But how?" Elliot questions. Ever the pragmatist.
"We don't know yet." Marcus responds, tone as questioning as Elliot's.
"We'll figure it out when we figure it out, boys," I declare to them. We walk in silence after that. The city is dark now. Not dark. Glowing with street lights and decorative lights and car lights and private lights and lights from windows and signs. But the sky is darker than it normally is. And nobody is around to see us.
"It's darker here than it is in the city." Elliot looks around at the empty streets.
"We're in the city," Marcus reminds him.
"But it almost doesn't feel like it."
He's right. Everything is so still and quiet. Abandoned. It feels like we're in a liminal place between the city and something else. But I don't know what.
"I feel like we're leaving something," I speak into the night, "I feel like we're leaving something horrible and suffocating. I just don't know what we're coming to."
"We should speak softly," Elliot reminds us.
"But no-one is here," Marcus remarks.
"But there could be someone on the other side of the buildings," I mention.
"You're right." Marcus lowers his voice in agreement.
"I don't know what I want but it's not the city," Marcus whispers.
"I don't know anything," Elliot softly responds. "I don't know anything except for the fact that I don't know anything."
"I guess we should've payed more attention in school," I joke.
"What can school teach us anyways?" Elliot wonders into the night.
"Do you think whatever's on the other side of the Wall can teach us?" Marcus's voice is like a soft night breeze.
"I think it can help us start to teach ourselves." My voice is solemn and hopeful.
"We don't even know what we're running from, do we?" Marcus is ever the philosopher.
"We know we have to run. And that's enough." Elliot is ever the pragmatist.
"I think that it's good that we know we don't know anything," I start. "Everyone else thinks they know so much but they are so trapped inside the city. They know nothing but its walls."
"You're right," Marcus responds.
It's good that Marcus and I are agreeing. We usually do agree. But whenever anyone in our group argues it's usually the two of us. And Elliot acts as a mediator and peace keeper.
Of course it was different the last time we disagreed. I shudder to think about that. It was the biggest fight we've ever had. Even though it didn't last long. It was also the most emotional. I'm glad the boys understand me now though. I only yearn to be free.
"The Wall seems so much less powerful now that we're right by it," Elliot mentions.
"Maybe it wasn't the Wall that kept us in. Maybe it was the city itself." I know what Marcus means. I tell them this.
We hold hands, drawing strength from each other. Everything seems so much less daunting when we're together. It's a strange sort of strength, being beside someone who understands you.
In the protection and quiet of darkness, surrounded by my best friends, I feel safer than I ever have. This is ironic, since most people are dead scared of the Wall. But my heart is still. My mind is clear.
"It feels like I'm walking towards something," my words melt into the night.
"But towards what, we don't know." Elliot smiles.
"Damn right. But it doesn't matter."
"Do you guys feel as curious as I do?" Marcus asks.
"I do." Elliot's voice has a bit of a bounce to it.
"I don't think I do right now. I just am relishing in this sense of peace."
We smile at each other. All of our makeup is faded by now. They look good without makeup. They've always said I look good without makeup as well.
The Wall looms above us. The light catches the chopped and fading paint in weird ways. In the night, and from this angle, I can't tell what the pictures were supposed to be. I don't envy the artists who had to make them. It must have taken years. Decades even. Of hanging from ropes beside the spectre of their horrors.
"Did you guys ever fear the Wall?" Elliot asks.
"I never did. Not even as a child." I think back to my youth. "Of course I never told anyone. My parents always warned me against going too near the Wall. I was their only baby after all. I was always drawn to the Wall. It represented something to me, but I never knew what. I guess it represented everything I could never have."
"My parents warned me against the Wall too, when I was younger." Marcus's voice carries mirthful rebellion. "They have a horror story. When I was four I got lost through the winding streets. They searched for me everywhere. They even got the police involved. But they couldn't find me anywhere. Finally a police officer found me at the base of the Wall. My parents were so beyond scared. They grounded me for a month after that."
"Wow." I wonder about little Marcus, a runaway, going wherever his feet pulled him.
"I wish I had your courage," Elliot speaks, "You inspire me. I was never drawn to the Wall as a child. I heard stories of how it protected us from all the stuff outside. How there were unspeakable horrors outside the Wall that we must never go near. How we were safe in the city and we had all we needed inside of it. Of course I questioned the stories. But I was too young to question them seriously. And I had heard them so many times that they stayed stuck in my head. So I feared the Wall. Because I was supposed to. But when I was twelve I started questioning it. What did the Wall protect us from? What was out there? Why were we never allowed to know?"
"You guys question things," I compliment, "you question things as much as you can in this suppressive world. That's why I like you. That's why I'm drawn to you."
"And you're strong in your convictions," Marcus tells me, "that's why I draw strength from you. And Elliot you're so kind to us. You're the file that keeps everything together."
"You guys are too nice," Elliot's voice holds the hints of a shy smile, "I love you. Taylor you're so passionate and Marcus you're so brave. You both inspire me."
"What would I do both out my boys?"
"What would we do without each other?" Marcus gives my hand a squeeze.
We walk on in quiet, companionable silence for a while. Around us different buildings drift by. They don't have any signs on them. Even the ones that aren't boarded up. They make sure not to face the Wall. Not with their doors and not with their windows. It's a jackpot for us.
I think of how I'm not surrounded by anything but my boys. There are no colours here. No pictures. No tastes and smells. No entertaining, enthralling, empty movies and plays and songs. There is just me, Elliot, and Marcus. There is just us in a way that there's never been just us before. Always there was the press of the world around us. Always there was the knowledge that our time together would end soon. Always there was the knowledge that we could be found out at any moment. But now there is none of that.
Now there is only a promise of a future in front of us.
Elliot and Marcus are so beautiful when stripped of the glitter and the glamour of the city. They are so simple and infinite and searching and dissatisfied and contented. I know that there is so much about them that I do not know. I know that there is so much about myself that I do not know. I know that most things about myself I do not know. Most things about the world.
Hopefully I'm on my way to finding out.
I don't think I would be content with not knowing.
But there's a contentment that comes with discontent too. There's a sense of rebellion, a sense of hope that comes with not accepting things the way they are. Not if those things aren't acceptable. Not if those ways are ultimately hollow. Discontent can drive you to finding the truth. Finding the realness that's behind all this false beauty. Discontent can save you.
"Do you think we're supposed to be more scared than we are?"
"What do you mean, Elliot?" Marcus questions.
"I mean, what if we get caught? Shouldn't we make up some sort of alibi?"
"I don't think we'll get caught," Marcus replies. I agree with him. I don't think we'll get caught. Not all the way out here. Not after all of this.
"But still. What if we do?"
"He's right," I say, "it's better safe than sorry. The more prepared we are, the more successful our mission will be."
"What should we say, if we do get caught?" Elliot's voice is thoughtful as it echoes through my head.
"We can just say that we are on a walk and wanted to explore a part of the city we've never been to before." Marcus's words are solemn and serious.
"But they'll see through that," I voice, "there's nothing in this part of the city to see."
"We could say we're finding a good place to tell ghost stories. Nice and dark." Elliot looks at us with his beautiful dark eyes.
"But there are already haunted house courtyards that are perfect for that," Marcus reminds him. The soft light of this darkness catches his wide cheekbones.
"What if we say we got dared to come here?" I offer.
"That could work," Elliot says.
"But who would ever dare such a thing. And so late at night?" Marcus is right.
"We could say we're looking for a place to hide something," Elliot suggests.
"But what would we hide? We have nothing with us. Wouldn't it make more sense to bring the thing we're hiding?" The boys nod in agreement.
"What if we say there's a story going around that the Wall is haunted?" Marcus suggests, "and we could say that we got dared to walk the entire length of the Wall at night? And if we do it we'll get money?"
"That's perfect!" I exclaim.
"Yes," agrees Elliot, "that's something normal teenagers want. Money. If we say we're doing it for money then they'd think that we're just normal teenagers, albeit on the braver side."
"Do you guys agree on the alibi?" I ask. They voice their agreement.
"Good," Elliot says. "Now we're ready."
I hum a little melody I made up. Low and soft and clunky and unprofessional. But it's soothing nonetheless.
"Do you guys already feel more free than before?" Marcus asks.
Elliot hums in agreement and I nod my head.
"I feel like we're never going home. Like we're going to be lost in this darkness together forever."
"That's very poetic," I tell Marcus.
"I wouldn't mind being lost in this darkness with you guys forever," Elliot tells us, "It's more free than I've ever felt before."
"But the sun will come up," I remind them, "this darkness won't last forever. With the start of a new day the city will awaken again and we'll be lost in it's clutches. We haven't escaped yet."
"You're right," Marcus nods in approval, "we haven't escaped the city until we've escaped the city. This is just a temporary respite."
"I bet escaping the city permanently is going to feel even better than this respite," Elliot wonders.
"You're right." I smile at him, steeling my heart forwards.
We fall into silence again, as thoughts are allowed to wander free through our minds.
We must look like an odd trio, wandering through the dark.
"I hope the sun never comes up again," I state.
"The city is shadowed by the darkness," Marcus agrees.
"There's just us here," Elliot states.
"Imagine if the world was just us. I don't think I'd get lonely. Do you?"
"I would," Marcus responds piningly, "At first maybe I wouldn't but after a bit I definitely would."
"I have to agree with Marcus," Elliot says, "Everyone else doesn't understand us. They can't ... they can't get to us. But I do still want other people anyways. It gets really lonely, just the three of us. I just wish there were more people like us."
"Actually, that's exactly how I feel," I agree, "I get lonely with only you guys to talk honestly with. Only you guys to be myself around."
"I don't even know who myself is," Marcus declares, "but you guys are the only ones I can speak freely around."
"But it's not like we can convince the other people." I sigh.
"You never know. Maybe we can." Elliot is ever the optimist.
"No. They're too far gone. Maybe not all of them. But most of them."
"I have to agree with Taylor. Most of them are too far gone."
We keep talking, and walking, and telling small jokes and solemn truths. I think we'll end up having to skip school tomorrow. It's okay. I will endure the lectures I get from my parents. I'll even endure my grounding if it comes down to it. Though one day of skipped schools isn't enough grounds to ground anyone over.
"Do you have an alibi for your parents?" I ask.
"I'll just say I was out with my friends," Elliot replies.
"Same. Or maybe I'll say I had a secret date with my girlfriend. That wouldn't even be a lie." We laugh.
Eventually the sky gets just a bit lighter. The dark blue prelude to dawn. But eventually we find the perfect place.
Blocks upon blocks are boarded up as far as we can see from the intersections. There are no people there. No signs. No lights even. Even the street lights are tuned off in this part of the city, for block after block after block. It's completely abandoned. A sight that's rare for the bustling city trying to take up as much space as possible in its limited range.
"What happened here?" Elliot's voice is wary and hopeful. He echoes the hope and the curiosity I feel in my heart.
"I don't know," Marcus replies, staring out into the abandoned streets. They glow a soft blue in the almost-morning light.
We stand there staring for a while. Thinking. Wondering.
"Oh I know!" Elliot suddenly exclaims. We turn to him for an explanation. "My father told me this story. Once upon a time there was a group of people, maybe just like us. They tried to break the Wall. They might have even succeeded. They weakened its foundation somewhere. But they were caught and the Wall was cemented over. But the people near that part of the Wall were still afraid that it was not as strong as it used to be. So they abandoned their shops and houses."
"I think I heard that story too, when I was young," I exclaim.
"Do you want to continue the legacy of those people?" Marcus asks. And oh boy we sure do.
We get yelled at by our parents when we arrive all scruffy and unkempt after a day of missed school. We endure the grounding. We put on our makeup and go to school after that. But we continue not paying attention. But this is different. This time our minds are planning and scheming.
We drive to the abandoned stretch of Wall in the evening. Our cars are loaded with fireworks and shovels and hammers and picks and wooden planks and large buckets. We bought them from our savings accounts. We even took out loans from the banks. Millions of dollars. In small pieces from many different banks. They're not loans we'll ever be able to pay off. They're not loans we'll be around to pay off either. We'll leave town and the banks won't be able to track us down.
We park our cars inside one of the empty, abandoned parking lots. We hug each other. We watch the sun set and once it does we begin.
Fireworks. The plan is to detonate fireworks. Up in the sky and down under the ground. We will dig down towards the base of the Wall and insert bundles of fireworks inside them and detonate them. To cover the loud sound we will detonate some fireworks into the air as well. Nobody will think anything is amiss. People explode fireworks all the time throughout the city. And this abandoned empty space is perfect for an urban fireworks show.
It's a good plan. One we all made together over text messages while we were grounded. It was a good thing that we got grounded after all, it seems. The world is working on our favour it seems.
We know that this is a dangerous plan. We know that we are risking everything. But we go forwards anyways. We have to go forwards anyways.
The edges of my soul are as dark as the edges of the horizon when I arrive at the abandoned section of the wall. My boyfriends both have determined, resolute, stormy eyes. They are as dead set on our liberation as I am.
"I feel ... I feel so light," Marcus breathes, "I feel like my soul is flying."
"I feel like we're on the verge of something," Elliot answers, "this anger that burns within my chest, that always burned within my chest, I feel like it has somewhere to go now."
"I feel so brave," I tell them, "like I'll never be afraid again. Though I know that's probably not true. Still, I'm high off of this feeling. But incredibly grounded as well."
"Well we're here." Elliot looks around at the rows and rows of worn down buildings, boarded up windows and doors, cracked streets and garbage. "We're past the point of no return."
"Are we really?" I ask him.
"Well we can return now if we want to," Marcus replies, "but I don't want to. Do any of you?"
"I don't," I answer him.
"Me neither," Elliot softly declares.
We get armfuls of fireworks, heavy and dangerous, from our cars. We set three of them up on the road. Ready to be ignited when needed. We then get our shovels and start digging.
It's hard work, digging into the dry, dead ground at the base of the Wall. But all three of us dig together. And we sweat together. And we are together. Making our hole just deep enough.
Marcus hands out the safety glasses and Elliot hands out the big, heavy hammers that we bought at the hardware store. We look at each other for a long moment. It's still a deep blue shade of twilight outside. We carefully arrange the fireworks in the hole, working in perfect unison.
We've always worked together so well. We're the only ones who understand each other and even though none of us understand ourselves we work like three different parts of the same whole. A trinity.
I silently, carefully tie all the fuses of the fireworks in the ground together into one twisted braid. This is so that we can safely set them off from a distance. We put a lot of thought into this. A lot of thought and a lot of research. Of course, no-one told us how to break the Wall. But the internet did tell us how to handle fireworks, how they work, and how to be safe around them.
Not that any of us care whether we die. It's just, just that we want to live long enough to see the other side of the Wall. Or maybe we're cowards. I don't know.
When it's finally time to light the fuses all three of us take a small, fragile-looking wooden match into our hands. My chest is buzzing with excitement. I don't think I am capable of even breathing right now.
Marcus gives everyone a shy smile.
"Are you guys ready?" he asks. Vibrant and sparking.
"As ready as we'll ever be." Elliot's voice is warm and soft and flowing.
"Yes," I reply, "Let's go."
Marcus and Elliot each set off one of the three decoy fireworks. I set off all the bomb fireworks. We run towards each other and meet in the middle, a good distance away from the explosions. We all look at each other. And only each other. We don't say anything. I don't think we can bear to look at anything else.
We give each other strength.
The resounding explosions which reverberate through the ground and the air and through our bodies and our hearts make my heart stop beating for a second. I can barely hear it. And I know that that's a good thing. It means the other inhabitants of the city can barely hear it. But I can feel it. Not just in my heart. But in my soul.
They're not explosions. They're escape. Elliot goes to light the third firework and the three of us hug as it shoots into the sky.
These few minutes feel like eternity. It feels like I am standing forever with my boyfriends amidst explosions. It feels as though my whole world is exploding. No, exploding it the wrong word. It feels as if my world is melting away to reveal another, secret world underneath.
When it's all over we are brought again to another moment of truth. Marcus looks up at us with wide, unsure eyes. I'm sure my eyes also betray my fear. Did they work? That is the question. Did they chip through a bit of the Wall?
We get out spades again and start digging. We clear out the ruined husks of fire cracker and loose dirt.
And there, we find ... bits of broken concrete! And there are a large cracks in the Wall!
"Yes!" Elliot screams into the sky, throwing his hands up into the air.
I smile more brightly than I've ever smiled before and Marcus looks up at the sky in exaltation.
We remove the concrete and we get our hammers, work setting into us like ants setting out on their forage. We get our hammers and our picks and we bore into the cracks we made on the Wall, hitting again and again and again and again until our joints and muscles hurt so much.
It's miserable. It's almost unendurable. We end up covered in sweat and bleeding through our minds. But it's worth it. If we can die to escape the city to freedom then we can do this too.
Halfway through we have to turn on some lanterns so that we can see.
Finally large chunks of the Wall crack apart and break, creating a rough, uneven, jagged-edged little hole. It does not go all the way out to the other side yet. Not even close. But still, it's a hole. It's something. And one day that hole will become a tunnel. And we will crawl through it and emerge on the other side.
We ready three more fireworks on the pavement of the road. And we carefully put a bundle into the hole we created. I get the wicks ready. And then again we stand together, looking at each other, as explosions rock our world to its core.
We spend hours hammering and chopping away at the concreted. And we can tell that we'll need longer straight picks to hammer on soon. It's okay. We have them.
By the time it's three am we are caked in sweat and dirt and we are exhausted. We have to go home now, or risk another grounding. So we change clothes, we exchange kisses, and we drive away in our cars.
Before we do that, we carefully gather the concrete bits into buckets we put in our cars, and we arrange wooden planks over the hole we dug into the ground.
The following morning we have to put makeup on that we hate and wear expensive, fine clothes that we hate and we have to sit through school and do so many sickly-sweet activities after school with our friends where we pretend to have fun.
And we have to do that the next day. And the next day. And the next day. Bars and dances and shopping and window shopping and movies and sports and video games and immersive games and all kinds of novelty attractions and amusement parks and museums and art galleries and restaurants and theatres and shows and laser tag and archery and the water park and neon lights and haunted houses and concerts and festivals and bungee jumping and skiing and skating and arcades and mini golf and so much stuff. Too much stuff.
But at night it's just Marcus, Elliot, me and the explosions. Explosions we don't see. Can barely hear. But explosions that reverberate in our souls nonetheless.
The hole becomes a tunnel and we have to go into the tunnel one by one to keep chipping away at the concrete. One person on lookout and one person gathering the chips into a bucket. It's cramped in there. Hard to breathe. The concrete digs into our knees and legs and leaves us bleeding. But still, some hurt in a lifetime full of cloying, smothering comfort is a good thing. It's a thing that keeps us grounded.
It's hard. It hurts. So much. But that's okay.
We've been told so so many times to turn away at the slightest, tiniest discomfort. Letting ourselves bleed and hurt and suffer such misery seems like a way to rebel. And if there's anything we want it's rebellion.
Rebellion and freedom from the city. Which is rebellion in and of itself.
So every night we work late into the night. I kiss Marcus and Elliot long and deep before we depart to our homes. And then the cycle begins again.
It's been a year. We're all exhausted from sleep deprivation. But it's worth it. The tunnel to the outside is almost done. And we haven't gotten caught. A year of terror and excitement and hope so strong it stole our breath. One year of purpose the likes of which we've never known before. One year of feeling like finally, finally we were beginning to understand ourselves. One year of our parents chiding us for partying all night and being drowsy at school.
And now we are lying on the roof of the high school. One drowsy, cozy, terrifying day of rest when we allow ourselves to simply drown in each other. Elliot is beside me and Marcus is leaning against the wall, his legs sprawled over our own. The rough concrete digs into my arms and legs. And it's so worth it.
"So are we going to say goodbye to our families?" Elliot asks into the sky drowsily.
"I'm not gonna say goodbye to mine," Marcus replies. "They might try to stop me and I can't have that. They've spent my whole life trying to make me into something I'm not anyways."
"That's understandable, Marcus," I tell him. "Just because they were the ones that pushed you out of their vagina doesn't mean you owe them anything. Especially since they've constantly tried to take your freedom."
"How about you, Taylor?" Marcus asks, "are you going to say goodbye?"
"I'm going to send them a note that I ran away but I won't tell them where I went. We can't have anyone knowing where we went."
"That's right," Elliot echoes, "we can't tell anyone where we are. Unless ... unless we bring them along."
"Where are you going to leave your note?" Marcus asks me.
"Under my pillow. Elliot, are you going to say your goodbyes?"
"Only to my older sister. Reflecting ... reflecting back on it she gave me a lot of the values I have today. She always acted like a model citizen. But ... but when it was just the two of us she would tell me these stories. Stories of something more. I can't even really remember them. I was so young. I just remember how they made me feel."
"I bet there's some people who act like they don't want to leave. But they do." Marcus's voice is soft and wondering.
"What if?" I pause to think.
"What if what?" Elliot asks me.
"What if we bring more people along with us?"
They both startle and look at me for a while. I scramble to explain myself.
"What if there are more people like Leia, who want to leave, secretly? We spent so long on this tunnel. We have to share it with other people. Or else what point is there?"
Everyone goes silent for a while. Before finally, finally, Marcus speaks.
"You're right, Taylor. If we don't share it with other people there's no point."
"I'm telling Leia," Elliot declares, "I know she'll want to escape with us. If not to escape then to make sure we don't hurt ourselves. But we have to tell other people too."
"So who do we ask?" I query.
"The people at school," Elliot states.
"Perfect," Marcus agrees. "They're not adults but they're not little kids either."
So we wait until it's lunch break. I tell my fake friends that I'm doing a statistics project for class and I need to spend the next few weeks surveying people. And then we start.
First I go up to a boy with dark brown eyes and dark curling hair.
"What do you think about the Wall?" I ask. His eyes go wide in shock and fear.
"I try not to think about it." That gives me my answer. He's not someone who is on our side. That's okay though. There are plenty of other people around.
Next I go up to a girl with strawberry blonde hair. She wears a white silk blouse.
"What are your thoughts about the Wall?" She startles, and walks away quickly like a scared child.
I go up to a boy with a leather jacket stitched with many colourful patches and studded with silver across the shoulders. He is getting a laptop from his locker.
"What are your opinions on the Wall?" I ask him. His eyes darken, tinged with fear.
"Buzz off," he answers. I sigh and turn away. I already knew that this was going to be long, frustrating, bitter work. I already knew that I would run into so many dead ends before finding someone who would be open to leaving. But actually having to confront the hatred and the fear and the horror that people have towards the outside is a new type of exhausting. Still, I tell myself to go forwards. For the first time in my life I'm doing something that's actually helping other people.
I ask student after student after student after student the same question, walking all over the large school in resolute strides. They all give me similar responses. Which is to say, clipped, short responses or silent refusal.
I try to keep my spirits up but with each and every set of scared eyes and tight mouths I feel a bit more hope drain away from me. Maybe no other people feel the same way we do. Maybe everyone is content to just live in the city. Maybe it's only the three of us, and maybe Elliot's sister, that want to see what else is out there.
I feel so incredibly young, going from person to person like a bee buzzing after fake flowers. I feel so incredibly young and foolish.
But I'm stronger than my mediocre feelings of hopelessness. I know that even if nobody comes with us, my boyfriends and I will still go past the Wall. And I know that I have to try. Trying is what matters.
I go to a girl with many colourful ribbons in her hair. And she refuses me. I go to a girl with sparkling gem-studded ballet flats. And she refuses me. I go to a boy with dark purple eyeliner. And he refuses me. I go to a boy with a brand new backpack that is blacker than jet-black. And he walks away. I go to a boy with a silver chain around his throat. And he tells me to ask someone else.
I go then to a girl with thick, dark hair woven into many intricate braids around her head. She looks about thirteen. She is sitting by herself in a corner by the window, writing something on the shimmering silver-white wall of the school with scarlet permanent marker. She has on blue jeans with many three-dimensional taffeta flowers blooming all over them and colourful floral sneakers. I sit beside her.
"Hi," I whispher.
"Hi," she says back to me, not making eye-contact.
"I have a question. But I need you to look at me to answer it." She turns to look me in the eyes. Her eyes are so incredibly dark. They're beautiful.
"What are your opinions on the Wall?"
"Yes. THE Wall."
She doesn't say anything to me for a while. She just stares off into the distance. But her eyes are filled with soft hope. With searching wonder. Like a blackbird taking off into into the evening sky.
"I ... I know I'm supposed to be afraid of it. But I'm not." Praise the sky.
"Meet me on the school roof after school," I tell her. "Climb the spruce tree to get there."
I ask three more teenagers before the lunch bell rings and I have to go to class. I spend all of class time thinking about that young girl, about her story, and about her emancipation.
On the school roof there are seven of us. More people than I thought imaginable. There are too many of us to hide in the sliver between the walls of the third floor and the raised up section. But we stay far away from the edges of the roof so that we are not seen. Marcus is smiling wider than I've ever seen him smile before. Elliot has a soft sort of vibrancy in his eyes.
"What are your names?" I start with.
"My name is Karla," the young girl I met earlier supplies.
"My name is Rod," a tall, skinny boy with brown hair says.
"My name is Garrett," a boy with thick curly hair and warm brown skin tells us.
"And my name is Ali," a girl with dark green eyes says.
"It's amazing to meet you all," I tell them.
"Have you guys, have you guys ever felt like there was more to life than what you've been told all your lives to persue?" Elliot asks them. Everyone is quiet for a very long time. Finally, Garrett speaks.
"Yes." His voice is quiet. The others nod in agreement, faces filled with cautious curiosity and hopeful longing.
"Have you felt like the city is too much, too cluttered, too loud, too big, too blazing, too filled?" My voice shakes softly with emotion.
"I have," Karla agrees.
"Me too," Rod adds. The other two nod their heads again. I know that what we're doing is very dangerous. That all of our plans could be destroyed by the wrong people knowing. That a year's worth of work and millions of dollars could be wasted. But we don't care. If we don't share what we have then what point is there?
"Do you want something better. Something purer?" Marcus's voice is steady and slow. Eventually all of our new recruits voice their agreement.
"Meet us here again tomorrow." Elliot says. And they agree to.
That night we work more on the tunnel. And it makes me more excited than I've ever been before. It makes me so full of excitement that I feel like I'm going to explode like one of the firecrackers, and out of me will pour infinite light.
The next day we tell Karla and Ali and Rod and Garrett of our plans. And they question us for hours about how we think this is safe, why we want to do it, why we think there's anything out there. And we answer that we don't know whether anything is out there. We are just following our hearts. That something inside us is telling us to get away, get away, get away from the city. And that we have faith. Even if we don't understand why we have faith, we do. After a long time they are convinced.
We are sitting on the floor under Elliot's bed. Being dead-quiet. Speaking only in whispers. Elliot's sister's Leia is down here with us, sitting on Elliot's pillow. She's eight years older than Elliot. And working on her masters degree. That's more school than I can even imagine. I don't know how she does it. She's very smart.
"What are you guys up to?" She whispers.
"We're going to cross the Wall," I whispher back. She's quiet for a long time.
"You guys are crazy."
"Please don't tell anyone," Marcus begs.
"I'm not a snitch," she assured us, "but you need to let me come with you. There needs to be one responsible adult to keep you guys safe." I smile and hug her, and she hugs me back.
There are twenty-two of us in total. Twenty one teenagers from the school. And Leia as our "supervisor." So twenty-two.
The plan worked. We were able to, in a matter of weeks, ask every kid in the school to come with us. Most said no. But a few said yes. That was all that mattered. That a few said yes. That a few would be free. That we would be free together.
We were stopped a few times by teachers, who asked us what we were doing. We told them that we were working on a statistics project for extra credit in psychology class. We told them that we wanted to ask a question that nobody had asked before. So we were asking people about the Wall. We showed them a fake questionnaire and fake pages of data that we had forged. And they bought it. They bought it wholeheartedly. They were exasperated but there was nothing they could do to stop us.
And now we are all gathered in the abandoned part of town, beside the tunnel in the Wall, ready to explode the last firecrackers and blow through all the way to the other side.
The anticipation is so thick that you could cut it with a knife. I feel sick to my stomach, but in a good and beautiful way. Everyone's eyes are shining. With hope. With wonder. With secrets. Everyone is tense. The air around us is tense. The sky above us is tense.
We all count together. In whisphers that come together to make one single many-voiced voice.
Explosions burst across the sky and down under the ground and shake our souls to the very core. It feels like victory. Like sweet, saturated, sparking victory. I want to cheer. I can tell that everyone wants to cheer. But we don't. Because we can't attract attention.
Rod goes down into the tunnel with a shovel and a string of people follow him, transferring the broken concrete out of the tunnel. A few of us keep a lookout.
"Hi, sir!" One of the lookouts loudly calls out from down the street. The twelve of us that are outside the tunnel quickly move to cover it with our bodies, to that nobody can see the hole in the ground behind where we are standing. My heart thuds in my chest.
An elderly man, dressed impeccably as all men are, walks up to us. We smile at him, and hope that it reaches our eyes.
"Are you guys the kids that keep lighting fireworks every night?" He asks us jovially.
"Yes we are." I smile at him, keeping my voice even and steady.
"Well you kids have fun. You're only young once after all."
"Thank you." I keep smiling. He turns to walk away. When he's gone we let out a collective sigh of relief.
"There's only dirt now!" The people inside the tunnel call out. We switch shifts and quickly dig out the dirt that is all that remains between us and freedom. And then we take our backpacks filled with food and water and we all crawl through, one by one.
The last person to go fills the hole with bits of concrete.
We're finally doing it, my heart thrums. I think vaguely, that I should be more afraid than I am.
We emerge into light.
Not bright light. Not blinding light. But a soft, gentle light that cannot really be called light. I look around. And all around me are trees. And grasses. And shrubs and bushes and moss.
But I can barely see any of it. I can barely notice the green and the brown because I am flooded with so many emotions that I have never felt before.
Emotions that are brand new yet so familiar that I feel as though they've always been a part of me. Emotions that are so intrinsic yet so unfamiliar at the same time.
I am almost overcome. And I can't even name by what.
I stand beside the Wall as the others file through the hole one by one. I see their faces light up in ways that I've never seen before as they emerge into this new world.
We do not say anything. We do not have words. This is beyond words. Beyond all forms of representation. We can only feel it flowing through us and look at each other in awe as everything seems to be both revealed and hidden all at once.
There is Rod. There is Ali. There is Leia. There is Marcus. There is Emilie. There is Sam. There is Peter. There is Elliot. There is Karla. There is Garrett. There is Melissa. There is Lauren. There is Albert. There is Hubert. There is Joanna. There is Ryan. There is Carmella. There is Andrew. There is Evelyn. There is Ruth. There is Harry. There is all of us.
Elliot breaks out into a jubilant smile and we all smile back. Our smiles seem to shine brightly like the stars.
"Great job, Kiddos," Leia tells us.
Rachel moves to hug Emilie. And then we all hug each other. The hugs are warm and close and soft and intimate. They are unburdened by fear and misery. They are the most joyous, victorious hugs I've ever received in my life.
We keep hugging until we are tired. And then we just stand there. Just soaking up the light of the Forest and everything that is in it. We feel as though we are in a dream. As though we are in a trance. And we feel as though we can do nothing but stand there and soak it all in.
The Forest seems to spark with life. Seems to flow and spin and thrum with it. With an energy that I can neither see nor explain. That I can only feel through the very depths of my very soul.
I can't describe it here. I just cannot describe it. The Forest seems to go beyond the senses. It engages me entirely on a level that is beyond my senses. On a level that is somewhere deep in the very depths of my soul.
I feel almost as if I have transcended the material plane of the city and have entered instead into a spiritual plane where there is only feeling, only emotion, only life.
So much life. Life all around us everywhere we turn. The world all around us everywhere we turn. Everything overwhelming us and overcoming us.
Merging with us until we are one. Until I don't know where I end and where the others begin. Until I don't know know where I end and where the Forest begins. Until I don't know where we end and where everything else begins.
It's peaceful. Not in the same way that a lullaby back in the city was peaceful. No, this peace reaches far deeper, far thorougher, far more real and inclusive and ineffable and intangible. I feel this peace down in my very being. I do not know what to do with it. All I can do is name it.
"It's so peaceful here," I whisper softly into the silence.
"It is," Karla responds, breathlessly.
There is quiet again for a while, for a long while. Stillness. Silence. The leaves blow through the wind like a mother rocking their child to sleep. But not like my mother. Not like any mother I have ever met before. No, this is like the type of mother that transcended humanity. The type of mother that is a mother to all.
I feel as if I'll spend my whole life trying to understand the Forest and yet maybe I never will.
I feel as if I'll spend my whole like trying to understand my companions who are with me. Yet maybe I never will.
"Thank you," Joanna breathes. I don't know who she's thanking or why she's thanking them. But I feel it in my heart. I feel the gratitude in my heart. And it's beautiful. Beyond beautiful.
"Thank you," Elliot replies.
"Thank you," Lauren whisphers.
"Thank you," Peter responds.
And then we all are thanking. We don't know who we are thanking. What we are thanking. Even why we are thanking. All we know is that we're grateful. Grateful for the feelings that we're feeling. And we want each other to simply know that.
It's something we can come to know. Something we can come to embody. Something we can come to depend on. Something we can come to merge with.
Together, as one.
I feel so very together with everyone here. So together that it makes my heart ache with it. Makes my spirit sing. They type of song that cannot be heard. Only felt.
"We should probably get moving," Leia tells us. "If anyone comes through the Wall we'd be found out and screwed."
"You're right, Leia," Melissa says. And after some talking we all agree. We agree to go out into the Forest and get lost there.
The Forest is filled with life. As we walk through it it completely surrounds us. Engulfs us. Envelops us. In every which way. Singing a silent song and blowing an intangible breeze.
I feel a sort of excitement I've never felt before as in one long line we all move to experience the Forest. To go through it. To become one with it.
It seems vast but not in terms of size. It seems never ending. But not in terms of continuity. Or maybe in terms of continuity. It's beautiful but not in terms of aesthetics. It's powerful but not in terms of force.
It holds us but doesn't hold us. It leads us and walks alongside us and follows us.
There are bugs. Squirrels. A deer. Mosquitos that come up to us and bite us. Moss that rolls over fallen logs.
"It's so beautiful," Hubert exclaims to us softly.
"It is," Marcus replies, his tone hushed in reverent softness.
"But it's a different sort of beautiful," Karla speaks. "Not like any type of beautiful I've ever seen before."
"You're right, Karla," Harry replies.
"I've never seen such beauty. No, seen is not the right word. I've never witnessed it." Carmella's voice is awed and wonderous.
"Neither have I," Evelyn answers. "It's not like anything else."
"It really isn't," Ruth responds.
"The city people would never understand it," Ali speaks into the silence.
"You're right. They wouldn't," Garrett voices.
"That's so true," Rod replies.
"Screw the city." Garrett's voice holds anger in it.
"But how are we going to survive here?" Elliot asks. And that's a reasonable question, as much as I hate it. We were all taught in school that it is hard to survive in the wilderness. Maybe impossible.
"Well," Marcus starts, "I'm sure we can do it." There is something tentative in his voice. "After all, humans were living in the wilderness before they built cities and lives in civilizations."
"You're right," Andrew tells him. "I'm sure we'll find a way to survive."
I look around. Or, more accurately, I feel around. Here in the depth of the Forest I feel safe. Safer than I have ever felt in the entirety of my life. I feel loved. I feel protected. I feel cared for. I feel secure. I don't believe that the Forest will hurt us. I don't believe that it can.
"Even if we die," Ryan starts, "it will have been worth it."
"Exactly," Lauren echoes, "I'd rather die out here than live a full life out in the city."
And she's right. She's absolutely right. I think it's something we all would do. And one by one we all voice our agreement. And it's like a promise. Like an oath sealed in blood. Like something both terrible and beautiful all at the same time.
I've made many such promises over the course of this last year and a bit.
"But I don't think we will die," Joanna states. "I think that the land will provide for us. That it will protect us. That it will give us what we need."
And I take a moment to feel that. Because it's exactly what I have been feeling all of this time. Exactly the knowledge the Forest has been sending echoing through my insides.
"You're right," Melissa speaks. And it's the truth.
"We should at least be looking for a source of water, you kids," Leia tells us. "If we're going to succeed at surviving we need to at least try to survive." And she's right. Or maybe she's not right. But I think she's right.
We all agree that finding water is the best course of action at the moment.
Walking through the Forest with an actual aim in mind is very different than walking through the Forest aimlessly. But the Forest still embraces us. The Forest still holds us.
And it guides us to water. It guides us to a small, clear stream of fast-moving water nestled into a slope. And we all drink deeply.
It's cool. It's sweet. It doesn't taste like taste. It tastes like something I've never experienced in my lifetime.
We stay by the stream for a little bit. Drinking with our cupped hands. Washing our arms and faces. It's quiet here. Calming.
"I have something to tell you guys." Garrett's voice is quiet and unsure.
"What is it?" Evelyn asks him.
"I think I'm not a boy. I think I'm a girl."
We all look at him - no, her - for a moment. We take a moment to absorb her words. She's a girl. Thet's strange. She has the characteristics of a boy.
But there are many strange things about humanity. Humanity is strange. It doesn't go by the rules that the city's society set out for it.
What I learned is that feelings matter a lot more than the material and tangible. The soul is what makes the human. If Garrett feels as though she's a girl, if she says that she is a girl, then she is a girl.
I tell her this. And she smiles so beamingly. It lights up my heart to see. One by one we all tell her that we accept her. And I can feel something transform within us.
Our group is not the same as it was a few moments ago. Us as individuals are not the same people we were a few moments ago. We're better. Freer. More drawn together. And I wouldn't trade this revelation for all the wealth in the world.
Not that I've ever wanted wealth to start with. I don't want it. I never have. It's so empty and hollow compared to all of this. Compared to this spark of life that flows through everything.
"I think I'm not a girl," Emilie speaks up, voice small but confident. "I think I'm a boy."
And this time it's easy to accept. It's not something to ponder about. It's simply another case of a person being honest about who they are.
And we accept this honesty. And we all tell him so.
"Can I say something?" Sam asks.
"Sure," Rod replies, voice kind.
"I don't think I'm a boy or a girl. I think I'm something in between."
And this is strange. A strange thing to accept. But it's still understandable. It's still beautiful. It's still one of many ways to be a human being. One of many ways to be alive.
"So should we call you a she or a he?" Ryan asks them.
Sam is silent for a while. I guess they've never thought about this before. I guess they've never thought that they'd have the opportunity.
"Call me a ze."
"Okay," Peter replies. And we all congratulate Sam on being brave and unveiling zer true self to us.
We stay by the stream for a while. Sometimes talking, sometimes basking in the silence.
We all talk. We all listen.
I suppose that this is my family now. These are the people I'll be living my life with. I never thought I'd have so many people by my side. That I'd have so much. Though this isn't so much. It's beyond measure.
"Are we always going to stay together?" Carmellla asks us.
"Yes, we are," we all reply.
We decide to go look for some food. And it's strange, coming to all the different plants and trying to decide which ones are edible and which ones are not. But it's interesting.
Eventually the Forest cover thins. And the grasses grow tall. We emerge into a Field stretching out in front of us, full of blowing grasses. It's so bright. But not bright in the way that light is bright. It's bright in a way that can't be seen. In a way that shines in our hearts.
The Forest stretches out on our left side, and the Field stretches out on our right. And everything seems to be in perfect harmony, including us.
Elliot, Marcus and I had three children. But there were many other children around the travelling camp where we lived. And they were all equally ours. And they were all equally everyone's.
The city never found us. They grew up in a life that was unburdened by the city and all it's excesses. They grew up simple. Humble. Bright. Free. And my heart sang to see them playing pretend games among the grasses or climbing trees to pick their fruits.
One of our children, Anisha, was born without sight. But she was alright. Because we took care of her. And she took care of us too, in so many different ways. And I think she's happy, living on the land and in oneness with it.
We told all of the children, all of our children, stories of the City. Stories of where we had come from. Stories of what that was like. Stories of how we realized that we had to escape. Stories of how we did finally escape.
They were very rightly horrified by it. By the overwhelming materialism and shallowness that the city pressed down upon all of its inhabitants. By the narrow-minded, rigid cultures of the people there. But thankfully their horror was a detached sort of horror. They did not have to live through it themselves.
I missed my family. I never thought I would. But it turns out that I did. You can't grow up with people and then just not miss them. But I left when I was sixteen. I was old enough to take on the world on my own. It wasn't like I was some helpless runaway child.
There was so much to learn in the Forest and the Fields. We learned how to live off the land. How to gather food and water and make clothes and shelter and medecine and fire. But we also learned how to be people. We learned how to love each other, how to help each other, how to be with each other, how to respect each other, how to know each other.
There was so much that we could teach our children. So much that our children taught us. I could never have conceived, living in the city, that such knowledge existed. That so much knowledge existed.
Bad things did occasionally happen. People got sick. People got injured. But we always took care of them. We always gave them medecine and gave them time to heal. And they did heal.
And our spirits healed too, all at once and over a long period of time.
Our children grew up. All of all of our children, who were all equally all of ours. Our children had children of their own. And those children were all ours. And those children were all beautiful. And we loved them with all of our hearts. As they laughed and played and sang and danced and did generally all the adorable things that children do in their lives.
One child, named Reuben, had legs that didn't work so we carried him around on a pallet of furs and wood.
And we told the stories of the city to the grandchildren too. It's vitally important to know where your people come from. It's important to know your history.
We lived into old age. Something none of us ever thought possible. And when one by one people started passing from this world, it was not a sad event but rather a joyous one. They were taking the next steps on their journey. They were passing into the next life.
And we made sure that our people always patrolled the outside of the Wall. That they were always ready to receive a new batch of runaways from the city. That they would welcome them and teach them and integrate them into our family.
Because this place is a place of refuge.