“Peace of life,” said the Chideman as he poured the blue water from the glass urn into the pool. It was surreal.
“Peace of life,” my response was automatic.
My heart pounded. For thirteen years I’d trained for this. Still I was not ready. The machine’s copper pipes gave off a warm smell that drifted to my nostrils as if precious biscuits were baking in the eating room. The calming scent only made it worse. I was leaving.
On display before every citizen in the community, my bare feet stepped the few inches further to the edge of the pool. Fear haunted my mind. Shivering from head to toe caused my short golden dress to tickle at the tops of my thighs. I brushed away the itch. Goose bumps peppered my arms and legs. I was freezing. For a moment, the massive musics and sounds on the stage overwhelmed me. I was small in comparison to everything here, all present and to this wondrous event. Through dazed thoughts, my focus returned and I remembered to count to three before placing my foot into the shallow liquid.
With eyes watering, my every heartbeat echoed in my ears. Never again would my father’s eyes look upon me. Never again would I feel his warm embrace. I would so miss his calm, loving voice. How would I bear it? I fought my great desire to turn and dart to him, or to even just steal a look as he sat in his chair upon the stage. Instead, I kept my step. There would not be another last goodbye. We had already said it, and he wanted just the one. It would be my greatest honor to him to leave with the dignity, respect, and position that he had bestowed upon me, to act older than my meager thirteen years. I had to be brave and pave the way for the others, as he had instructed.
The tears nearly choked me as I quietly sniffed them back. I could scarcely see, but chose not to rub the wet away. Everyone would notice. More would only follow and my eyes would be closed soon enough. The time had arrived. This was no longer wholly my choice. I was being led by my duty and so had to keep control of my emotions for these last few seconds here.
The immaculate stage held static, causing the miniscule hairs on my head to stand on end. They reached toward the beautiful colored glass of the cathedral roof in the Pod Community’s grandest room, as if they too wanted to stay. The urge to run, to escape consumed me, yet I betrayed my heart, followed my learned directions, and kept my course.
No matter the logic and knowledge in my head, nothing had prepared me for this feeling of claws tearing me apart from the inside out. I fought off the nausea. I could not be ill, not here in front of the community while representing my father.
The crystal and copper pool of light lay before the five of us, with solar panels running from floor to ceiling, as the toner’s chorus continued to sing behind us. The brilliant round majesty beneath my feet, only half a foot deep, held the key to all of our futures and to what would be the whole of humanity. We were taking these steps for everyone. Once we left, we could never return home.
Tarron had ordered that we space ourselves just two paces separated, one from the next. The four older candidates followed closely behind me. The taste of anticipation mingled with the hum of energy that filled the great room. My mind whirled.
‘Keep walking forward… do not turn around’ father’s words echoed in my head.
I was horrified. Chills took residence up and down my spine, causing me to shake further. How would my days unfold without him by my side? How could I leave him here? My heart was dying.
‘The coming light can blind, if you lose protection of your eyelids,’ he had warned.
‘Think only of your training and the swim,’ I reprimanded myself against my inert weakness. ‘Focus. You are leading the others.’
I closed my eyes tightly.
“Your eyes… don’t forget,” I choked out the words, reminding the four following me to keep their’s closed as well.
The desire to see where my feet landed was nearly more than I could endure as I took my next step. Blindly, trembling as I’d never thought possible, I walked on until a humming of energy engulfed me. Then a wall of water, warm and flowing, caressed my face and arms and legs until I was drenched in it. It unnerved me. I imagined my skin would feel this way if covered with a million tiny insects. The vision of it in my head sent more shivers. I rubbed away the feeling. Fear was controlling me. I was holding my breath.
‘Do not forget to breathe, Tolomay,’ I remembered father’s training. ‘Or you may lose consciousness.’
Barely able to manage my thoughts, I took back my air and continued forward.
A light penetrated the liquid as if it were one and the same. Much too bright, even with closed eyes, it rained down upon my body as if it were the sun and had no limits. The burning lasted only a moment and rid me of my chills. Then I was struck hard in the back by a force that seemed more as power than matter. It propelled me through the air so fast that I nearly opened to see, but instead fell into a rolling somersault, ending in a stand as I had been trained to do. The grasses felt soft beneath my bare feet. The air smelled completely different here. It was fresh and clean. Was it safe to look? Sure that the diminished stage music meant safety, I slowly peeked to see what was tickling my toes. My feet were resting in an unbelievable world of vegetation. I turned my eyes forward. Plant life flourished about me. An insect landed on a bloom and dipped its head inside until all of it was hidden in the bright yellow flower.
With every cell overwhelmed, my delight leapt as I viewed the sky. Miraculous science! Holy green gravity, it was unbelievable. We did it! I had accomplished what I had trained my entire life to do!
Magnificent and abundant life surrounded me as far as I could see. The sky was a magical light blue like the ancient’s paintings and pictures; the clouds were bright whites and grays. It had all been true, or was I only dreaming?
As hard as it was for my mind to accept my surroundings, elation filled me and I could no longer hold my tears. Crying like a joyous newborn, I breathed in the pure nature of the heaven of the clean world. Its power bore into my soul. The energy of a long sturdy tree line reached toward me in the wind, welcoming my spirit to share in this wondrous space. I looked up to the trees highest branches. They were much taller than I had imagined they’d be.
This was all real. Father’s machine had worked. We had succeeded! We were here!
The much too-loud screech of the hole and the noise of the water pouring itself into this world now drowned out the distant sound of the toner’s chorus. My heart shook with uncontrolled excitement.
“We made it!” I shouted over the machines deafening pitch, then turned to view the light point from which I had come.
‘But… where were the others?’
The water fell from midair, waiting for them. As if in warning the sound turned to something altogether different. First there was silence, and then an angry hiss. Elation left me as the air changed too. The color around the running water shifted to a dingy gray. Impending doom gripped my chest just as Candra’s face peered through the wall of water. She smiled in disbelief at the world she now saw… but why had the pool not spit her out? Why did it hold her in itself? Dread filled my belly even before I heard her shrill scream.
With half of her body through, she was just ten feet away from where I stood, her arms reaching urgently toward me. The look of astonishment fled from her face as she let out a sound more horrific than I’d ever heard. I was too terrified to move. We had no training of this otherworldly power. A moment later, Teresa was at her side, and next Florentina, and finally Marva. They had not cleared the entryway either and instead, floated helplessly as the glorious and glowing blue water turned a dirty brown. It spit out an odor like the scent of a burned out candle. Candra’s skin was pulling light from the water into itself. Every blood vessel seeped its treasure from her skin. The others were bleeding too. Nearly instantly, they were painted in red. No longer lit, the water turned as dark as an endless hole and the black backdrop taunted us all. Panicked, I barked the order.
“HURRY! MOVE! MOVE!” I shouted, but none of us obeyed.
Unable to aide them the slightest bit, I stood shocked at their agony when a brilliant flash of light struck the portal. Their shrieks filled me with horror as I watched them writhing frantically in midair, deep in the black watery grave. Like the dark liquid that hung motionless in the air, the moment was frozen in time. Candra stopped screaming. Suddenly she was gone.
‘No! No! No!’
Mere seconds dragged like eternity as for a moment longer Teresa’s voice took on a high pitched squeal. Her eyes nearly bulged from her head. I viewed my team members disappearing, sucked back into nothingness as the pool of light made a sizzling sound. Then it slammed shut with a loud and thunderous ‘clap’. The water disappeared and I stood staring at the now empty space in the beautiful green world, my face full of tears.
What had just happened? Nothing could be real. I had lost them all, lost all who I’d known and all in my charge. Finally, my feet led me running toward the closed light point. I grasped frantically at the air before me.
“Come back! Come back!” I screamed. “Father, take me back! I want to go home!” I sobbed. “Bring me home! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
Guilt annihilated my soul. Why had I not reached out to my team when they had been in unfathomable pain? I was the curer, the healer, and I had just stood idly by and watched them die. I’d failed at my life’s purpose, to lead and keep safe and healthy all citizens in the new community.
“I’m so sorry,” I bawled as if they could hear a single word of it.
I gave way to gravity and fell as a lost spirit to the trembling earth. Crumpled into a ball, I wailed to the enormous trees. I was wholly and utterly alone in this strange green world.
Why had I lived?
Genre – Fantasy / Romance
Rating – NC17