An Original Short Story by Charlene Mossman
When he opened his eyes, the world was blue. It was the warm, robin’s egg blue of the sky at dawn, though he did not yet know what a robin was, or an egg, or dawn. There was just a feeling of peace, that he was alive and it was good. The world was good, and he so wanted to see it.
He pushed out with his little hand. The surface of the blue was smooth and solid. It curved around and above him like a tent (though that word, too, would need to be discovered). A light shone through the blue, a blush of yellow possibility. He pushed a little more; he did not feel frightened, only curious. The membrane split under his hand. White light sliced through the membrane, and the child tumbled out and landed with a thump on the grass.
He sat up. The blue thing he had come out of was a bud, growing from the grass. It was pointed like a seed pod, and empty, cracked down the middle.
I have been born, he thought. But he felt that wasn’t quite true.
There was no sun in this world, only gauzy clouds floating across a pastel yellow sky. He had fallen out on top of a gentle, grassy hill. A short distance away, another pod stood in the grass. Tiny white flowers clustered around its base. The pod was pink.
He pushed into the grass with his pale hands and stood, wobbly as a newborn colt. He tottered a few steps through the grass. As he drew closer, he saw the pod’s membrane was split. It was empty.
He knelt at the split and felt the inside of the pod, running his fingers across the smooth, pink walls. They were covered in a fine fuzz.
The boy jumped. He fell out and landed on his back in the grass.
A face stared down at him. Two chocolate eyes, earthy brown skin. A fuzz of new black hair. “Who are you?”
The boy rolled onto his knees, found his feet, and smoothed the grass stains from his white smock. “Who are you?”
“I’m a girl,” she said. Her white teeth flashed as she grinned and she held out her hand. She also wore a white smock that fell from her shoulders to her knees. Their feet were bare.
The boy stared at her outstretched fingers.
“You shake it,” the girl said. “Like this.”
She grasped his hand and shook. His arm flopped from the wrist. She giggled. “Not like that.”
“How do I shake it?”
“Firmly. People judge a man by his handshake.”
“How do you know?” he said.
The girl filled her chest with air. “I’ve been watching things. They showed me. Didn’t they show you?”
“The Ones on the Outside.”
The boy cocked his head.
The girl mimicked him. “Didn’t you see them?” When he shook his head, the girl gestured for him to follow. She climbed into her seed pod and pressed against the wall, letting him squeeze in until their cheeks touched. She ran her hand across the inside of the wall. “Look.”
The fine fuzz rippled. Colors shifted through the fuzz, pulses of orange and yellow. The colors coalesced into the imprint of a hand, fingers spread wide, as though caressing the pod from the outside.
A woman’s voice murmured around them. Caroline? Hope? Serena.
The girl whispered into the boy’s ear. “She’s picking my name.”
“My name.” The boy frowned.
“Aren’t they picking your name?”
The boy crawled out of the pod. He gazed beyond his hill. All around him, as far as he could see, were fields of pink and blue pods. They sprouted from the grass like mushrooms down the side of his hill. Some were no larger than a chestnut. Others, like his and the girl’s pod, were the size of a grapefruit. Though ‘chestnut’ and ‘grapefruit’ were also names for the future, perhaps to be read to him in a book, or sung in a Christmas carol, or fed to him by a grandmother.
The girl ducked into his blue pod. She felt the quiet fuzz.
“No one ever spoke to me,” the boy said.
The girl crawled free. “Are you sure you never heard them?”
“The Speakers. They’re always talking. Sometimes there’s music. She likes to sing to me before the darkness comes. Wait. I hear something.”
The girl waved him in. The boy scrambled inside and pressed his ear to the fuzz. At first, all he heard was the pounding of his own heart. Then a new sound reached him. A sob, a hiccup, a gasp. Just as he saw before, in the pink pod, the imprints of two hands squeezed into his wall, as though clutching it from the outside. The fingers dug in like claws. I can’t.
The boy spread his palm against the larger hand. His fingers stretched through the fuzz, reaching.
One more sob. Then the large hands let go. The crying stopped.
Together, the boy and the girl knelt in the pod, ears against the wall. A dark thing twisted in the boy’s stomach.
“Sometimes mine cries,” the girl said. “They get scared, I think.”
The girl grinned. She waggled her eyebrows, then grabbed his hand and pulled him with her as she climbed from the pod. “Maybe she needs help picking your name. Let’s go find one.”
She dragged him down the hill, running for a long, white road that wound between the fields of pods. The road was paved in smooth stone, warm under their bare feet. In the center of the road, they looked left, and looked right.
“When we find my name, how will we tell it to her?” the boy said. “She can’t hear me.”
The girl punched the air with her fist. “When my Speaker starts listing names, I tell her which ones I like. If she doesn’t feel it, I tell her again, like this.” She flung out her heel in a kick.
The boy curled into himself. He couldn’t imagine kicking the blue fuzz. What if he hurt his Speaker?
He shaded his eyes and gazed up the road. “I see something.”
A white, round door stood at the end of the road. As they watched, a girl with brown hair, just a little taller than them, broke free from a pink pod and stepped up to the door. It slid to the side and opened, letting in a rush of white-blue light. Sounds filled the air. A dozen urgent voices, all speaking at once. A shout of pain, of joy, and the brown-haired girl stepped into the light.
The boy ran. His feet slapped the ground. He ran faster, faster. The black-haired girl shouted after him. She tried to keep up. But his legs were the wind. As he flew down the road, his heart fluttered like birds’ wings. Air stung his cheeks and dried his grinning teeth. On the other side of the door were chestnuts, chocolate, grandmothers, tents, robins, the dawn.
Running is my life, he thought. I’m a runner. This is who I will be.
The door grew closer. It was still cracked open. The blue light was still shining, for him.
His foot struck something metal. He tripped and fell to the road, scraping his knees. Rolling onto his side, he glanced back.
A pipe punctured the stone. It rose up from the center of the road. The tip was cut at a sharp angle and a gray mist poured from the pipe, tumbling over the road. The mist rushed for him, fast and thick as a river. Like it owned him.
Something scratched in his throat. He coughed and tried to stand, but his knees buckled and he doubled over with another cough. Red liquid burst from his mouth and speckled the white stone. Arms shaking, he pushed himself onto his elbows. Gray mist engulfed the road, the grass, and the seed pods. The yellow sky vanished, obscured by the thickening mist. Each lungful of air scoured his throat and constricted his lungs.
He began crawling. Arm forward, leg forward. Push, pull, drag. He crawled in the direction of the door.
A beam of light split the mist. The door opened, and within the bright doorway stood a tall figure with long hair. She stared down at him.
Leg forward, arm forward. Push, pull. The mist dissolved his smock, seared his pink skin. He reached for the figure, blood on his fingertips. “Tora. My name… is Tora.”
She shut the door.
He curled into himself. In the gray arms of the mist, his heartbeat slowed, winding down like a broken clock. Tora whispered with the last of his air. “I forgive you.”