by Rachel Veznaian
Judah sat on the ground outside his home, a home he had built for himself so long ago deep in the trees and high up on Mount Gimie. The air there was still sweet, particularly after it rained, which he made sure to remind himself of on a daily basis. Sitting on the damp grass, he ran his hands over the tips of each dewy blade. He reconnected with nature, as he had every day for the last sixty-five years. It was a wonder how fresh and how pure his home had remained, long after They had arrived. Their large metal pods that careened into the remaining earth and their drills that dug even deeper, overtaking Sulphur Springs. Judah opened his eyes and looked to the trees above him,satisfied with the few brief moments he had taken in the grass. He set off on foot toward his clearing, the one that offered him a most magnificent view of the bays and ocean beyond.
Arriving at a sloped plain, he saw that Gabriel had already arrived, that he had already begun his work. Judah took careful steps down each terrace, sure not to disturb the precise mounds of dirt and seed that Gabriel had so meticulously planted. He approached the man, twenty years his junior.
“Good morning to you, Gabriel!”
“Ah!” Gabriel’s trance was broken and he looked up at Judah. “And the same to you, brother!”
“You are already working yourself up quite a bit now, aren’t you?”
“Ah yes, indeed. It is that time, you know?”
Gabriel laid down his spade for a moment to tuck up a dreadlock into his head covering, and Judah used this moment to steal a glance down into Soufriere Bay.
“The ocean is marvelous today.”
“The ocean is the same every day. The bay, though. That is looking different.”
“How do you mean?”
Gabriel stood straight and turned out toward the bay. “Look. The pods. Not the ones in our earth. The floating pods.”
Judah stared into the bay as the large metal pods, each connected to one another through floating bridges, bobbed up and down over what was once a thriving metropolis. “All I see is our Soufriere covered in ocean and the pods that They live in.”
Gabriel scratched at a dread that was once again creeping down the nape of his neck. “You don’t see there are two missing?”
“Two?! How on Earth could you notice two are missing? There are at least a hundred.”
“I count. I come up here and before I begin my planting, I count.”
“To what end?”
“I’m connecting with everything around me.”
“I don’t think that’s really what Jah had in mind. When we connect with nature we are closer to him. I don’t count each banana on every tree.”
“Maybe Jah sent them for a reason and they are nature. They absorb our earth, our sulfur in ways we can’t.”
Judah took in the sunny bay. He didn’t like Them and he didn’t have a reason to, but their arrival forty years ago had left him unsettled. He opened his mouth to criticize this thought, but Gabriel’s enormous brown eyes were so full of hope and idealism that Judah couldn’t bring himself to quash such an attitude. He always tried to look to the heavens, towards positivity, but when he thought of his home when he was a child versus what it had become now, pessimism flooded into his heart. “I suppose they filled a hole that the tourists left wide open when tides rose up.”
“Ah yes! See?” Gabriel was clearly far more committed to this thought of rising up and above. “They could’ve come like so many before and just taken. But They didn’t. They exchanged.”
“It isn’t much of an exchange when They know we need Them though, is it? Our system is dependent on their presence.”
“Well then, I guess it is good we have what they crave.”
“Sometimes at night I dream.”
“Of what my great-great-great-great-great-grandfather’s St. Lucia could have been.”
“First the green figs and then the…” Makellah’s eyes snapped to a meticulous list that lay atop a floured counter. Each guest that arrived at the boutique hotel had a most particular set of needs. Americans looking for a slice of Caribbean cuisine. The French, who desired that tradition be honored, yet incorporated with new twists and fusion. Of course, there was also Them, who above all else wished for the baths and platters of, well, everything. She drummed her fingers on the counter with an arpeggiatic rhythm until her eyes found the ingredient she was forgetting. “Yucca.”
“Whata?” The little voice popped out of nowhere and startled Makellah. She looked around as Shelley bounded toward her wonkily, Bambi on ice.
Makellah let out a sigh. “Yucca. We have a Danish couple and their twin daughters coming. They want a menu that’s a little South American.”
“Then why don’t they go to South America?” Shelley hopped onto the counter top.
“Because South America is still one big blob of land and it’s more fun for them to brag to their friends that they sat atop a piton for five days.”
Shelley grabbed for a banana, “Well, I think you’re wrong, by they way.”
“Hey,” Makellah swiped the banana first. “Those are for guests, not you, sis. And what do you mean?”
“We don’t have the Danes this week.”
“Yes we do. I know we do. I checked the list and the calendar.” Her hand flew toward the grocery list.
“Well, you’re right on track. For February. But that’s a month away,” Shelley reclaimed the banana as Makellah’s eyebrows shrunk into each other. “At which point this banana won’t be any good anyway.”
Makellah whipped a page back to a month earlier. “Stop!”
Shelley halted before peeling the banana. “What? Crazy.”
“It’s Them. They are coming, so you cannot eat that banana.”
“Ohh! Them!” Shelley let the banana flop from her hand and onto the counter, her face projecting pure inward delight.
“Don’t look so excited. I still can’t be used to Them.”
“Oh come on! They’re harmless!” She beamed. “All they want are their Sulphur baths and then like every food our puny little island can pump out.”
“It’s like babysitting a bunch of drug addicts for a week.”
“Oh come on. They just chill after their baths. They look around, they eat, they play music. It’s easier than an American, or Brit, or-”
“You’re so negative!”
“You’re so naive… and sitting in flour.”
Shelley hopped off counter and walked around to face her older, now pacing, sister. “Come on, they’re mellow and so much more interesting than humans! Humans come from all over the world and they look at everything here the same old way. Bor. Ing. But, They come here and every time, a different look in their eyes… eyesses? They have so many eyes. I’m not sure how you say it.”
“We know how a person will act. We know what a person wants. But what do They want?”
“Sulphur and food, apparently.”
“But don’t you wonder where They’re from and what’s out there?”
“No. I’m wondering how I’m going to come up with enough food to satiate two of Them for the next three days.”
“Perfect! I can come and help.”
“No, not perfect. You can stay here and rearrange their quarters. You know how they bathe…”
Makellah looked at Shelley’s slumped shoulders, knowing she’d disappointed her.
“Another time you can come with me to the other piton. Just not now. This is too much. It’s too stressful. I need to go now and see about transport from Monchy.”
Shelley merely shrugged. “I know. You always say another time. But what if another time doesn’t come?”
Makellah walked to the door. Sunbeams hit her back and made her skin sizzle or maybe it was just guilt. The guilt that weighed more and more heavily each time Shelley spoke along the lines of tomorrow never coming. Years ago, Makellah’s negligence had led to a small house fire. The small house fire led to a larger one and that led to their parents’ lives being lost. Makellah knew what each day of her future would look like now as she created a perfect ecosystem for her and Shelley to live in, while Shelley could only think about escaping it. “It will. I promise.” She let the humidity invade her lungs and the light blind her as she turned before she had to look at Shelley’s face any longer. Shelley didn’t understand how comfortable Makellah had made everything there, and she didn’t want to her know what a wasteland life could be. The door clacked as it shut.
Shelley squeezed the ends of clothespins and wondered how much it would hurt if her skin were to ever get stuck in the twisted metal part of the contraption. Releasing all tension from her fingers, the clothespin dropped into a bucket to meet its mates.
She gathered the corner of a sheet, yanking it impatiently from the clothesline. The final pin holding it together winged off wildly and was lost in the grass. But what did Shelley care? She was sure they’d meet again. Probably when it found its way into the bed of her foot.
Shelley folded the final sheet and plopped it into a larger basket, which sat next to the bucket of clothespins. Lugging that inside was the annoying part. It wasn’t just heavy, it was awkward. But perhaps that was wrong as well, she thought. Folding could just as easily be the worst part. It was so futile. Fold the sheets now, only to spread them out on a bed in twenty minutes. She straightened herself up and looked down at them.
“This doesn’t even matter,” she said to the sheets.
A motor’s rumble cut through ocean waves, stealing Shelley’s attention out to the water where she knew her sister would be boarding a speedboat along with the rest of inn’s staff, leaving her behind once again.
“Fold the sheets or they’ll wrinkle.” Shelley scrunched her nose and mocked the rumbling engine. “Well maybe they’ll just flatten out when they’re stretched across a bed, Makellah.”
She grabbed the basket, irritation fueling her strength. “Maybe I don’t have time to be folding and unfolding wrinkle free sheets so someone else can have a wrinkle free bed to sleep in.” She trudged through the dewy, lush grass.
“I didn’t choose this,” She muttered, her voice growing louder, “it happened to me.”
She stomped into the doorway and threw the basket onto the kitchen floor before whipping back around. She wasn’t done with the sea or those clouds, or that manicured lawn. She could see her sister’s boat slapping the water as it sped away.
“You don’t even like it out there!” she hollered, “You just want to stay here. So why don’t you just LET. ME. LEAVE!”
Her breath caught in her lungs as she panted. Her hands helped prop up her body as she doubled over, resting them on her knees. No one could hear her up there. Everyone had gone to town with Makellah. It was now just her in the most luxurious prison. A prison not of her making or choosing. And that was the cruelest bit of all- a life that had picked her. A world kept alive by human tourism and Their sulfur mining. She wanted to wish they would all just go away, but Shelley knew she daren’t dream that. So instead she closed her eyes, prayed someone or something would take her away and screamed at the top of her lungs. The sound shot through the air and bounced off the pitons. She yelled until her throat was red raw and she couldn’t speak anymore.
Zed stepped off of the pod and sunk into the marshy terrain at the bottom of Monchy. They trudged up to the foot of the mountain, the land slowly hardening as he went. Zed never used the dock that had been installed or the ATV that existed for the visitors’ avail. They never programmed their pod to the terrestrial setting and always chose to leave it behind in the water, aquatic mode on. They had been predestined to the exploration org upon their emergence into the universe. While Zed may not have proceeded forth in rank to a proper Sginkshlot-twenty explorer, eventually they would. Therefore, it made the most sense to begin exploring every little thing they could now. Even down to the muck they had just clomped through.
Zed had a proclivity for walking and frequently pondered why. While the chemical makeup of every Psyxone was the same, surely there would be variations in each being. Therefore, Zed could only come to the conclusion that whatever variation had occurred in their system’s development led them to experience heightened mental capacity when in the throws of physical exertion. They reached the top of Monchy, where a large house that Zed registered to be in the style of E1800 France was perched. They had heard humans describe other structures of a similar nature as “simply breathtaking.” As though a dwelling could steal the breathe from your lungs. As they learned over their years on this planet, humans were nothing if not over dramatic.
“Can you believe it?” Xix asked, standing in the doorway.
“Zed present. Sginkshlot-twelve. Reports prepared.” Zed barked the words, as it was protocol, though he knew what was coming next.
“Water.” Xix, a Sginkshlot-eighteen, exhaled as he said the words. Zed prepared for the inevitable dance they were about to engage in.
“Yes, Sgin Xix. It is expansive.” It was a wonder this Xone had attained Sginkshlot-eighteen with such blatant indulgence.
“And these humans.” Xix’s eyes appeared dewy as the light from the house showered the company. “They exist on a planet brimming with water and what do they do? Allow the pittance of ice they do have to melt and welcome in even more!”
“Yes, before arriving to this island I was provided a full scope of it. All these pitons, as humans call them, were connected by land. Bridges and valleys of land.”
“And it is all sea now. Imagine.”
Feeling as though they had quenched Xix’s thirst for reflecting on the water to land ratio, Zed made a move to migrate inside.
“It feels that they don’t understand the trade that’s been made. They don’t know what’s been lost. Buried in their sea. The remnants still down there.”
“Shall we proceed? I’ve prepared the glingchinct for you.” Zed had a great many pieces of news to reveal in that glingchinct for Xix and the thought vaguely that such news could be seen as either a success or utter failure.
His trance nearly broken, Xix was forced by these words to turn away and move into the house.
It seemed utterly ridiculous to Zed, as much of what Xix did, that they meet away from a pod, in an inn. The main living spaces had been, as always, prepared by a plastic tarp the covered the ground wall to wall with a line of food up against the back. The lights were dimmed and the air was a middling level of moist, the kind that clung onto every scale of skin. Zed looked around this environment that had been made so perfect for Indulgence. It was at Xix’s behest that they come per every full moon. Upon their initial arrival on Earth, Xix had placed them here and assigned them to meet with them once every three moons. Zed was sure at the current rate they moved, they would be seeing them once a moon and once a half moon. Well, depending on how well Xix took to the news.
The two Xones walked into the room. Zed, as always, accepting what lay before them, while Xix took in the site with overflowing joy. The silence however, was taken from them. They could hear muffled voices from below and as Xix breathed in the world around them, their eyes glowing green with sensuality, Zed exercised their auditory powers and listened in on the tumult below their feet.
“This is crazy. You are driving me crazy! I never leave!”
“There’s nothing out there to see! In fact, you’ve seen it.”
“There’s an entire Earth to see.”
“Shelley, you aren’t going to get to the rest of the Earth. You can get as far as beaches that sit on Soufriere bay and there’s no reason to even go there most of the time.”
“I could have gone earlier today, but you left me here.”
“I needed you here. There was so much to set up. What do you think is out there? We have a perfect, safe life.”
“Perfect, safe, boring life. We exist to exist and that’s it.”
Zed tuned out of their conversation, such a mundane argument.
A tall, slender woman appeared, walked halfway across the room and set a silver tray down in the middle. On the tray sat small pouches of a black powder. Sulfur. She straightened up and looked nervously into their eyes. “May I get you anything else?” She twisted a braid nervously around her fingers.
In the corner doorway, Zed saw a younger girl, the daughter, or maybe the sister, peer curiously out at them.
“This is perfect, as always. Thank you, Makellah,” Xix replied, their vocals set to pleasant.
Makellah ushered the younger girl out with a shove, leaving Xix and Zed to begin the reporting. The actual reason they had gathered. Xix took a seat in front of the sulfur, signaling to Zed that he may proceed.
“Glingchinct twenty-six. Mining has continued in the-”
“Zed, I must stop you.”
Zed rarely felt. Obeying a superior was ultimately quite important and he remained quiet after being cut off, “Yes, Xone Xix.”
“Zed, you have faithfully prepared the glingchinct for me for many moons. The rate, the amount, the potency. Sulfur has become of the utmost importance to our kind. To me. This is the greatest achievement in my exploratory life. A Sginkshlot sixteen has brought to my attention that a place referred to by humans as the Netherlands, a most peculiar title for a location, has proved to be sulfur-rich. So much so that to extract the sulfur is an undertaking beyond imagination. My other Sginkshlots are invested in sulfur expeditions already, which are suited to their capacity. I want you to move under Sginkshlot-sixteen. You’ve proven yourself to be competent here and you may stay this traditional path towards your predestiny. However, you might also move to unprecedented territory and move up a Sginkshlot early, you might even become a thirteen if you so choose to accept this. I am fairly certain no explorer has ever had two of the same Sginkshlot under them at the same time.” Xix picked up a bag, which signaled to Zed that they were not meant to answer immediately. The application of the sulfur would render Xix useless.
“Xone, you’ve given me a great deal to think about. A path changing proposition.” Zed wasn’t one to break with tradition. Predestinors had not stated this at emergence for them. Yet this new choice existed. Xix stood and held out their palm to them.
“You’ve never had this, have you?”
“It’s perfectly acceptable for you to use it.”
“Should I become unwell, I will.”
“You don’t need to be ill, Zed. Indulge. Apply the full quantity.”
“I don’t think it wise. I understand how to operate and function as I am. As I always have been.”
“Never once. Incredible.”
Incredible. This was another word humans often used and that was all the reassurance Zed needed to not partake. “I’ve had the trace amounts to heal pain.”
“It’s not the same. It isn’t feeling.”
“You’ve given me much to consider.”
Xix walked to Zed so they were quite close. They tucked the bag into Zed’s breast pocket. “You have been given a quandary. Our kind do not often face these. This can help.” Xix turned to the rest of sulfur and the great amounts of food beyond.
Zed backed away out the door as Xix ripped a bag open hungrily and rubbed the sulfur all over their body. Zed shut the door before they could witness what carnage would take place all over the room, the way Xix would destroy the space and the food.
Turning to the pod, Zed meant to walk down immediately, but the young girl with blood shot eyes looked up at them, her face full of trepidation.
“Are you leaving? Are you all leaving?”
They looked down at her and said the one point of importance from their Sginkshlot, “The sulfur has begun to dwindle.”
Makellah was rarely ever furious. Over anything. But their home, their lifestyle, it was at risk the more Shelley had these insane outbursts. She was behaving more and more erratically. Screaming with guests in the house. It was absurd. This was a business. Of course, not one they owned but one they owed their lives to, to say the least. No customers because of Shelley’s miserable attitude, no money coming in, no need for them to work there. And then where would they sleep, on the beaches above Soufriere Bay? Well, she supposed, Shelley would then get her wish. She could leave Monchy.
“Makellah!” Shelley galloped in breathless.
“I have nothing to say to you right now.”
“But I have to tell you something!”
“Tell me when we don’t have one of Them going out of his mind up there!” She growled in a fierce whisper.
“Why are you afraid of them? Is it the extra eyes? Or the way they hum at each other when they communicate? Or-”
“But I have to tell you something.”
“I spoke to one, the one who didn’t talk to us.”
Makellah’s face fell. “Why? Why would you do such a thing? Do you even know what could’ve happened?”
“Nothing bad happened. It spoke back to me and then just left.”
“Everything. Everything I do is because I love you and want us, no, need us to be a family together. You’re all I have.”
“We can always be together, we are! But I still have to tell you the thing.”
“What’s the thing?”
“The sulfur is dwindling.”
“It’s slowly going away.”
“I know what dwindling means!
“Good Lord, it’s dwindling. Do you know what that means?”
“Yeah, that’s why I told you. This is it. We can leave.”
“Now calm down; we don’t need to leave.”
“Sulfur tourism picked up where humans left off. We need to leave.”
“Shelley, we don’t have anything to go to.”
“We can find it.”
“We aren’t even doing anything here. This is an opportunity; we’re young, so let’s leave this place and go! There’s a world out there, an exciting one!”
“No, no, no. I had everything set up perfectly for us here. After mom and dad passed I did all this. And it was hard, but now we are safe.”
“We can’t stay here and watch the money leave. It’s time. How many reasons do you need? I can’t just live and die here.”
“It is better to live poor and long than rich and young.”
“No. You’re wrong and I don’t accept that. Not for a minute.”
“Stop, I can’t listen to this.” Makellah was still pacing. “I can’t breathe. I need air.” She left through the kitchen door, the thumping up above not fazing her for a minute.
Judah was hyperaware the moment that a six-foot tall being meandered toward him on even keeled footing at a very natural pace. The scales stretched across skeletal ribbing, the eight eyes spaced in a long line right through what Judah supposed was a forehead. How on earth has such a creature come to him? Could it see him? Quite possibly. With all those eyes, how could it not?
“Greetings,” Judah didn’t know how to proceed at this point. What did It want?
“I didn’t mean to cause you trouble or alarm. I merely meant to take a walk. I find it is optimal for thinking.”
Judah thought on Gabriel’s proclivity to rising above. “Of course, you’re more than welcome to walk anywhere. The pools are not on this mountain though.”
“I do not seek the pools. Only clarity in my thoughts.”
“You seek clarity? What could be troubling you?” The words flew from his mouth. He had asked one of Them a question. The two stood there on the precipice of conversation.
“I have been given a choice. Such a scenario does not often exist in my experience.”
“A choice? A choice is bothering you?”
“Yes, it is quite foreign to me.”
“And that is what brought you up my mountain?”
The question was earnest, but such directness struck Judah and took him aback. “I, uh, I didn’t mean my mountain. Just the mountain on which I live.”
“I am registering physical appearance as being quite advanced in age for a human. I can only deduce you’ve lived here hundreds of moons prior to our arrival. You must feel that we are intruders.”
“I… uh… I have lived here for decades, before you, yes. This is my home.”
“Yes, yes that makes sense,” It said, confirming to Itself. Once again this direct way he was being spoken to was so earnest, yet so unnerving. “That must be how you feel.”
“Why do you say ‘feel’ like that?”
“How do you mean?”
“You keep saying, ‘feel,’ as though you can’t comprehend it.” It was like he had studied the word, but never experienced it.
“Well, we don’t.”
“You don’t feel?”
“Of course we experience physical pain. Vague remnants of emotion run through us. Regret, curiosity, etcetera, but certainly not to the degree humans do.”
“Is that why this choice has brought you up here?”
“Yes. There’s an overwhelming need for sulfur. I have been offered a post elsewhere.”
“What’s the problem with that?”
“It was offered to me. I’ve never been offered anything before. A path has just always existed.”
“So you aren’t sure whether to move along elsewhere or stay here?”
“If I accept the post, I will advance, but I’ve always been here. I understand the track and timeline of where I am.”
“That’s why some pods are gone.”
“You are quite astute. Yes, pods have been reassigned. The sulfur here is diminishing.”
These words brought Judah both excitement and sadness. All he had wanted was the St. Lucia he knew as a boy, but that would never come back. Now his selfish wishes would render his people destitute. “Why do you even need it?”
“A little sulfur can heal us. A lot of sulfur though, that can take us to your level.”
“What do you mean?”
“The reason I take these long walks, the logical answers I search for constantly, it can all be taken away with sulfur. Many in the upper echelons seek to feel the way humans feel.”
“Have you felt?”
“No. So I don’t understand.”
“Perhaps all the reasoning in the world can’t help you. Perhaps this feeling you avoid is what you need. To make this decision.” Judah stared at it. He heard these words leaving his mouth. Help and advice. What was he doing? This thing’s face couldn’t show emotion; it alleged to not be able to experience such emotion. But Judah could tell; it was distraught.
It reached into the folds of its garment and pulled out a pouch containing black powder. “This is what you think I should use? I’ve kept my body pure all these years, I’ve kept my mind clear.”
“Some humans smoke marijuana. They say that it brings them closer to Jah, but not everyone agrees, including me. However, I am not to saying that it can’t bring them the clarity I believe to confound me.”
Its eyes all centered on the tiny black pouch in its hand. With a quick motion, it ripped the package open and rubbed the powder all up its arms and chest and face. The powder sunk into its scales. Judah could see it going to work.
Zed didn’t know why they rubbed the sulfur on their skin. They weren’t sure why they had brought the bag up the mountain or why they accepted it in the first place. They didn’t understand why they chose Mount Gimmie out of all the hills, mountains, and pitons that he could have. They didn’t know why they spoke to the man, or spoke so frankly to them. These thoughts and movements they made had been all over the place. Zed’s thoughts bounced through the universe recklessly. Unable to describe anything. This, the thought occurred to them, could be what humans referred to as anxiety, doubt, or confusion, or even all three.
What a phenomenon. Confusion. To be so unsure of oneself. Zed could feel their juices pumping within them. This could be it. The sulfur could be taking hold of them. They looked down, the blades of grass licked up against the sides of their feet and ankles. It was a new irritating sensation. It made them choke on air as the rhythm of their breath quickened to the point where they were forcing it out with gusto. Noise escaped Zed as well. They tried to collect their druthers but could not. They buckled over and fell to their knees. They were laughing. This was laughter. The mere experience of laughing only made them want to laugh more.
They fell to one side and rolled on theirs back and let all the blades of grass touch every bare scale they had. It tickled them and they laughed even more. But then their senses dove deeper; they felt the warmth of the air and the coolness of the dew lying on the undisturbed grass. It was hugging them, the Earth was hugging them.
“How could we have shoved our drills into this?” Zed cried, sitting up.
“You’ve been taking our home apart piece by piece.” Said the human.
The words zinged into Zed; they’d forgotten anyone else was there.
“Is it really anyone’s home though?” It wasn’t just the moisture absorbing into their skin or the warmth of the air that enveloped them. It was the crashing, pounding of ocean on rock going in and out at an even, comforting pace. It was the chirping of birds that made the forest come alive with melody against the backdrop of rustling trees. “It’s alive. It has a heartbeat.”
“That’s why I live as one with nature.”
Zed had another thought. They could search their memories and bring up past images. They had previously registered greens and blues and blacks. But they felt them now. They could see the emerald landscape of a piton as it sat high and lofty above an aquamarine sea. They could see red bleeding into orange as the sun sank below it. They could smell turmeric and citrus wafting out of the basement kitchen beneath which Xix sat, marinating in his indulgence. Zed’s memory brought back echoes of two women fighting, one of whom desperately wanted to leave.
And at this thought they had come back to their choice. They stood up shakily at first, but with feet rooted into the ground and purpose in their heart, they tore down the mountain and away from the human, who yelled from behind.
“Stop killing our Earth!”
Zed ran, and when they reached the water, they swam with all their might. That young girl needed to leave and so did they. Zed had felt so unsure, but they knew now that they wanted to leave as well. It was a feeling in their gut, they just knew. They would return to Monchy and tell Xix their choice. They would leave behind convention and propel themself forward on an accelerated path. They knew it was right. They were at the foot of Monchy once again. They climbed. Climbed the whole way up. What had they been afraid of before? Because that’s all that was. Fear. That’s what humans called it. Humans could’ve also called this a “knee-jerk-reaction,” one of their more humorous phrases. Zed paused before reaching the house once more and let another laughing fit occur. How liberated they felt! To have such a clear mind after so little thought was a gift. The sulfur that brought them to this planet would now keep them there. No wonder Xix had grown so dependent on indulgence.
They cackled to themself once more and when they refocused a girl stood before them- the younger one who had been so upset before.
“Why are you laughing so much?”
“Indulgence. It has brought me a moment of clarity.”
“That… is the very opposite of what I think.”
“Your word for that is ironic. I have muddied my mind in order to come to a decision. What irony that is.” What Zed found so curious about this human was that she stood so openly before Zed. Her shoulders were square and her eyes scanned all of his back and forth. Before Zed could stop, they said, “I heard you earlier. With the other human.”
“My sister. She wants me to stay here. Always.”
“Safety, security. We know how the world works here.”
“But you would like to leave?”
“Yes. More than anything, I just need to see the world.”
“That was my predestiny. Perhaps that was yours as well.”
“Yes, that was the life that was chosen for me upon my emergence.”
“By the order with which I emerged.”
“So it was random?”
“Isn’t everything random? You could’ve randomly been born in Argentina.”
“I have desire, though. In this moment. I was given a choice for the first time and now I’ve arrived at my decision. It was puzzling to me and I didn’t like it. Now I shall give you one. I’ve broken my predestiny. Would you like to break yours?”
“What do you mean?” The girl’s voice quivered with the question. The vibrations gave away her trepidation.
“Do you want to leave? Do you want to go to the Netherlands? I can transport you there. The rest is up to you.”
Her mouth gaped open. From his studies, Zed understood this as a sign of shock among humans.
“I took my time to choose. I must inform my superior now and I shall give you your moment.” Zed marched determinedly past her to the house.
“YES!” Shelley thought back to how she had thrown the words from her body with all the strength she could muster. She saw the alien turn back for a moment and look at her. The alien had merely said, “Very well,” and continued into the house.
She smiled to herself as she picked at a coconut. Giddiness was her fuel today. She was going to leave. She could escape and never look back. Makellah was the one outlier in this whole equation though. A thought of her would come up here and there throughout the night and day. When Zed emerged from the house the night previous, Shelley was informed she had by the end of today to arrive at the docks at the foot of Monchy.
Makellah was the one thing she was leaving behind though. Could she live without her? This thought was her ghost for the day. The answer, Shelley knew deep down, was, no. Of course she couldn’t live without her. She had lived a life without parents, of course. She had not, however, ever lived a life without Makellah and frankly didn’t want to try.
“I just need to convince her to come with me,” Shelley said to the sky and sea. But how? Makellah was stubborn beyond belief. Beyond being stubborn, she was afraid. The crux of the problem. She would argue that they knew how to live here. They didn’t know how to live anywhere else. Shelley was on her feet pacing back and forth.
“But what if we can’t live here?” She said to the coconut and then looked up at that house. “What if we had no life to live here?” She had rehashed to Makellah what she’d overheard and knew life as they’d known it would cease. The stream of money that poured in was going away, but Makellah wouldn’t listen; she was too rooted in the life she knew.
Shelley threw the coconut to one side. It broke against a rock with a snapping sound. “I could force her.”
The French had built the beautiful monstrosity that sat before her, the bowels of which they lived in. The architecture was classic and gorgeous, according to one guest upon entering into the period home. If Shelly couldn’t convince Makellah that there would be no one to fill the house, then perhaps the solution would be to eliminate it.
There were gas tanks by the docks that were kept there should they ever be in a pinch and need fuel. The pinch was here and Shelley knew what to do.
After an hour of going down and up, Shelley was drenched in sweat. She walked through the house and dumped gasoline on everything. The rugs and couches, the hardwood and curtains. The piano, the chairs, the beds. Everything.
The place smelled a wreck by the end of it all. She grabbed the matches from the kitchen they cooked in. The one that was right off of their bedroom. The only space that she’d ever had in the world. Shelley couldn’t tell if the burning tears that formed in her eyes were because of the unknown that would lay before her when she was done or the fumes of gasoline that wafted up and off of everything.
She struck the match with a pounding heart and threw it to one side. It landed on a chair, which set ablaze immediately. The fire tore up through the curtain and Shelley breathed in its beauty. Such a rich blaze it made, and the smoke, though she would choke on it in no time as it burned through synthetic fabrics and furniture, was a gunmetal grey that twisted into black.
Shelley exited the house and as she walked down to the dock and turned to look back as if to say goodbye.
By the time she reached it Makellah’s boat was nearly back; she could hear the whine of the motor in the distance. Shelley stood with her back to the ocean as the motor grew louder and looked up to the now billowing smoke.
“SHELLEY! SHELLEY!” Makellah was indeed back. Shelley felt one hand grab her shoulder and turn her around. There were tears streaming down Makellah’s face. “Oh my, you’re safe.” She embraced Shelley in a hug. “What happened?” She looked up to the house.
“No, no, no. Our life. It’s our whole life!”
“It isn’t any more.”
“Why are you so calm?” Makellah was on the verge of tears.
“Because this is our new beginning.”
“You did this. You did it, didn’t you?”
“What? Why! Why would you do such a horrible thing?!”
Shelley bore an earnest look into Makellah’s horrified eyes, “It’s time for something new.”
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