The sepia images flash across my mind of warm summer days and Julia playing in the grass. Summer holidays on the sands of Weymouth and icecreams and play.
Hearing a tone I stand up and draw my thin grey dress about me. My long black hair is scruffy and matted, hanging down like an old curtain or rag. Leaving the room barefoot I pad across the hard floor, the tough skin on my feet slapping against the surface. A tall rail follows along the left, cold grey metal. Practical not beautiful. On the right the wall is a battleship grey and the floor has a plastic-coated shine.
Descending the stairs, which quake under my feet, I reach the lower landing. More grey walls, more grey floors. I remember the springy green grass and vibrant blue sky. A backlit sign indicates the canteen. The glass-paned doors are already open. The interior is whitewashed but manages to be cast in a sickly green sunlight. The basic uncomfortable chairs cast long shadows on the floor.
I shuffle up to the counter where a surly-faced caterer doles out a weak soup onto cracked plastic trays, stained by repeated use. The substance is roughly ladled out to my tray, splashing my dress. A solid thing is then deposited onto the next section to the soup. It may have once been bread. Possibly a vegetable. I ate it anyway, not so much for the taste as there was none but for the activity. At least it keeps my mind off things if only briefly.
Leaving my tray on the rack I wander out of the canteen. The main atrium is lit by shafts of natural light from tall slot-like windows high up near the ceiling. The light is a cold blue-grey. The main doors are wedged open allowing access to the yard. The sky is the usual grey wash with a stagnant heat. Not a single breath of breeze disturbs the stillness. People stand about silently, hanging there like wraiths in their drab grey clothes, eyes glazed. I stand by a group staring blankly at the unpainted breeze block wall.
The air hangs thick and silent, only a muffled muttering can be heard. The lights swivel automatically from the nearest guard tower far above. In time the muttering ceases and the people troop back inside the compound. Noone rushes, noone speaks. Every movement is mechanical.
I’m walking mindlessly back to my room. But then something changes. I feel a pull, something calling to me. I divert from my path, instead walking down another corridor. This corridor is nondescript and decorated like the rest but I know it’s one I’ve never been down before. It’s off the prescribed route. My mind is starting to slowly unfog. My eyes focus.
Leaving the light of the connecting corridors the unlit corridor in in half light. My pupils expand to compensate for this change. I start when I spot a camera up on the wall but it is off, the wires and circuits have been torn out. They hang outside the case. In the darkness I don’t notice long claw marks on the camera case.
Shuffling further still I glimpse a light at the end of the corridor. A pure white light unlike the artificial lights or natural light. Something different, something new. As I grow closer the light is blinding. The light is coming from a sort of doorway of blinding white light. Strange tendrils of light wave and convulse around the unnaturally precise block of light.
Tink tink tink. A guard walks by each cell dragging her portable ‘walkie talkie’ along the wall and barred windows of the cells in boredom. She doesn’t even bother to tick them off, they’ll all be there. They’re always there. Nothing changes, not ever.
In her boredom she almost misses the only change in years. One of the cells is empty. Fiddling with the keys in her hurry she opens the cell door. Nobody’s there. The room is too basic for hiding places. She checks under the bed anyway. The wall is also sound. She swings round and looks outside. A long row of doors stretching into the distance in either direction. She slams the cell door and pulls on a handle fixed to the wall. Speaking into the grill she informs security. One is missing.
I walk into the glowing doorway. Light fills my senses. I shut my eyes. I feel cool, clean air. With my eyes shut I taste it on my tongue. Fresh with a hint of moisture. The view immediately ahead of me can be predominantly be described as green. Tall green shoots reach up to the sky. Giant blades of grass. Looking up I see an infinite bright blue with a bright spot of sun, impossible to look at. Strange oval red-brown fruits stand atop some shoots like hats.
I jump up and grab a fruit. It glistens with dew. I sniff it, the smell sweet. Cautiously I nibble at it. The taste hits me in an instant. Fresh and sweet and juicy. In a moment I’ve finished the fruit, the juice dribbling down my chin. I laugh, the sound strange and alien to me. Continuing I pass massive colourful flowers, fire orange, purple, blue. The colours seem to burst in my vision.
The giant flowers sway in a gentle breeze. In the distance I hear a buzzing, a loud angry sound at contrast to this peace. After a time a large black thing comes into view in the distance, hovering in the air. As it nears its ugly body becomes visible. Large and black and hairy and round with twig-like legs on its body. Two sets of wings protrude from the beast’s body, beating so fast that they are visible as only a blur. Bzzzzzz! the creature approaches me. Instinct tells me to back away slowly. The thing’s bulbous eyes scan the environment. I freeze.
Zzzzzzzz the creature descends to the ground with a soft fumph. It opens what is probably a mouth and a long tongue snakes out. It moves around independently as if its another being altogether that just happened to be attached. It roves across the ground, tasting it. It’s then that I realise, it’s just a bug. An ordinary insect only big and essentially harmless if unpleasing to the eye. Without any pupils as such it’s hard to tell what the bug is looking at but I get the feeling that it’s staring at me.
I let out a breath as it ascends once more but yelp when it snatches me up and carries me like live cargo. The ground rapidly speeds away from me leaving me hanging from this insect in the sky. I know if it loses its grip I’ll probably fall and die. We glide over the terrain, over flowers and grass and other strange spiky plants. Here are there there are clearings which appear artificial in nature and I wonder if there are other humans residing here.
Looking down makes me dizzy so I decide to look ahead instead. Miles and miles of cloudless sky stretching on forever without a building or tree to disturb it. In time the scenery changes. Large clear areas of dirt followed by tall black-brown imperfect spires illuminated with tiny dots of light. As we go closer I realise that these spires are massive, like insect versions of skyscrapers built from what appeared to be some concoction of dried mud. My history lessons came to mind, wattle and daub essentially mud houses built by humans hundreds or thousands of years ago.
The lights were coming from holes, doorways of a sort. We flew in through one of these high up on the spire and the insect dropped me onto the mud floor and landed a short distance away. I lie where I was for a moment, resting. My arms ache from being carried with my weight on them. The insect is stationary, resting, in a dark corner.
Standing up I look around. I am in what could be described as a room with light leaking in through the entrance. The walls, floors and ceiling are constructed of this dried mud inset with rocks and sticks to fortify them. Cautiously I stamp on the ground experimentally. It is solid enough. The insect awakes, I could feel it eyeing me. However it doesn’t move. I walk out through another interior arch. It was wide, being designed to fit the large insects; I presume by the insects themselves.
Stepping outside the room I am in another chamber. I’m starting to get a feeling of deja vu. The insect makes no attempts to stop me. It is more like a taxi when the journey is complete.
Looking to my left I see the light source in the room. A strange globe-like plant is attached to the wall by roots. It clings like ivy to the mud wall and the bulb is yellow-orange casting a yellow glow. The roots are thin and brown. Randomly walking left through a door arch I can hear a noise permeating through the wall, a loud buzzing. Following the sound for no particular reason it gets louder as a pass through another chamber and eventually out into a large atrium spanning the height of the bug-tower I’m in. It is full of a cacophony of buzzing as hundreds bugs fly about from chamber to chamber crossing the vast open cylindrical space. It’s like the equivalent to cars at rush hour, except flying. With the numerous doorway holes in a more or less uniform order reminds me of a Roman colosseum from my trip to Rome years ago. The interior is lit with more bulb-plants at regular intervals.
Lacking the ability to fly, I walk carefully over a narrow ledge skirting the circumference of the atrium. The bugs seem largely oblivious to my presence and I feel it’s for the best not to draw too much attention. They may be basically flies but I’m in their world now and they are quite a lot bigger than I. Watching the activity more carefully I notice a number of the bugs are carrying what I assume to be balls of mud a shade darker than the hardened mud around me. Perhaps they are building or repairing the structure. Seeing as there is no way for me to climb up the structure this way to see what is happening I decide to head back through the chambers and see if I can find another way up. A few minutes of exploring leads me to chambers sloped upwards possibly giving me an alternative route up. Supporting myself by holding onto the walls I walk-climb up the sloped ground, stopping occasionally to rest against a sturdy wall. At one point I reach an external chamber and get a whiff of fresh air, as opposed to the smell of mud and bugs. Looking out I can see the other bug-towers fading into the distance and then the grass-forest begins again fading to blue sky.
Continuing on my journey at length I reach the apex of the bug-tower. Here an open-roofed area has largely collapsed and bugs are bringing in fresh clay and pressing it into shape to form the new structure. Piece by piece the roof starts to come to form. I watch the process for a bit. Eventually, growing bored, I move back out to the centre and atrium. One of the bugs flies up and towards me and I step back a bit but then I guess it’s my bug, the one who took me here. It picks me up with a yelp like a lost doll and carries me downwards to the floor of the atrium. I see a large pile of fruit and other foods taken from the surrounding forest being rapidly consumed by the horde of bugs. Cautiously I take one, the size of a grapefruit in my hands. Seeing no negative reaction I bite into it. The flavour is juicy and sweet and tangy. I spit out the seeds. A little more bravely I take another. Juice dribbles down my chin, I can’t help but grin.
Following this I once more wander the chambers of the bug-tower. In some bugs are resting or sleeping in plant-lined alcoves in the wall. The resting eyes me warily but since I do not pose an obvious threat they ignore me. Although at first all the bugs looked the same to me, over time I start to be able to identify differences between individuals, and even family groupings. Here and there I see juvenile bugs, about the size of me. They hang around what I assume to be their mother and generally stay away from this stranger. I pass bugs in my travels sometimes but they pay me no more heed than the architecture. At length I grow physically and mentally tired trekking through endless near-identical chambers, my feet occasionally stubbing painfully on irregularities in the floor. It feels little different to my prison walks only pale brown rather than grey. At length my bug finds me and picks me up once more and I decide to go limp like a carried kitten as it carries me off.
We travel to another bed-chamber with an alcove and the bug drops me off on the floor. I yawn involuntarily. The bug kindly allows me to take its ‘bed’ in the alcove while it sleeps on the floor. After all the crazy new environment I think I’ll never get to sleep but it isn’t long before the weariness gets hold of me…
I’m awoken around I’m not sure what time by muffled booms from above. Shaking off the sleep I carefully climb out of the alcove. My bug has already gone. Somehow I’m able to get towards the atrium and look out. Loud booms can be heard from the roof and pieces of dried mud fall from the slightly domed ceiling of the atrium. The whole structure shakes slightly from the impact of whatever it is that it attacking. A louder boom and deafening crash. A rock the size of a small house (to me) plummets through the ceiling and smashes destructively to the floor. I assume it’s like a large cannonball in equivalent. I think back to school where we were taught about World War II and the air raid bombings in London. Is this something similar. Are the bugs at war with something else? What else exists in this strange place?
At length the booms finally fall silent and I must have fallen asleep. I had the Dream
In the Cell you don’t have dreams. Dreams can be memories and memories are dangerous apparently. Remembering before, before you arrived at this dreadful place. Remembering the very reason they had to lock you away. To protect themselves, to shield the population from the truth.
A cornerstone of a dictatorship is suppressing all alternatives until the population become incapable of remembering or knowing any alternative.
A population without this knowledge means a population not only incapable of rebellion but one resistant to it. In any situation people are naturally defensive of their existing world-view and personal perspective. The bigger the change the greater the resistance to it. Now imagine it you could synthesise such a scenario where your system becomes normality and no alternatives can be envisioned. If you do this for long enough those who remember before will be incapable of informing their descendants at threat of death. Generations later the past will be forgotten, buried under the rhetoric of this apparent utopia. But perhaps, in the great furnaces in which hundreds of years of knowledge were thrown, some escaped the ovens. Hidden or stolen. Buried underground in long forgotten vaults, remnants of old wars and government spies long fallen. What if some of the people had accessed these vaults, uncovered the truth. Made plans.
I was one of these people. Privy to forgotten truths I was amongst those planning to overthrow the long reign of our dictators. The problem is I was discovered.
Morning comes I assume. My friend is back. It lowers itself and I climb onto its back wordlessly. With a buzz of wings it takes off, flying out of the building. I may not be totally familiar with the architecture of their ‘city’ but it’s quite evident the scale of destruction. Many of the towers have shattered spires and large chunks of the structure missing. The irregular but distinctively pyramid-shaped caps are gone, smashed rubble of dried dirt. There are dead bugs everywhere scattered on the ground and structures.
They may be basically giant bugs, in an alien world of spires of mud but I had grown to like them. To feel connected in a way I had not to any in many years of imprisonment. Naturally my experiences before had made me cautious about trusting but I could feel the destruction, the deaths. It felt, wrong.