concrete dreams

Second example of my struggling attempts at writing fiction. Don't judge me. 


“Everyone around here had two things: a job, and a name. My name was C4111, and I was Builder. We were all born something. Most of us became Builders and Cleaners but some became Fighters and Explorers. I’d always wanted to know what would happen if I wanted to do something else, something I wasn’t born as. Why could each of us only have one role? Nobody else cared to ask these questions.

Explorers were confident, brave, and knowledgeable. They knew about local plant species and how to handle the potential attackers that might strike our colony. They’ve all reported some major source of danger before, and many of them were younger than me. When Explorers made a discovery, it became part of their identity. They got a name. C5114 discovered that the sweet sap rolling down a tree about 4,000 body-lengths northward was extremely poisonous. She had observed four members of Colony E feasting on it before they began losing muscle function and dying from paralysis. Her name became Sap. Seven sun-downs ago, C4929 sensed a thunderstorm coming based on wind patterns and got the entire colony underground and plugged the entrances before the rain struck. She was called Storm.  We weren’t that creative, but having a name was the pinnacle of fame around here.

I’d spent all ninety-two of my sun-downs as a Builder. The highlight of my life was that I was a special Builder. As a Builder for the Explorers, I got to live among them. We lived in an underground annex 613 body-lengths away from the main compound, where all the other Builders, Cleaners, and Fighters lived. This annex was completed before I was born, so I spent most of my time fixing minor cave-ins in the tunnels and extending some rooms as the colony grew. Our compound was a complex network of tunnels in the dirt, kind of like tree roots. My job involved calculating the structural stability of this particular network of tunnels, and moving dirt around to make sure nothing collapsed. It sounds more exciting than it was.

It’s not that I didn’t like building; I just wanted to do more. I wanted to talk to people, I wanted to be somebody. I wanted a name.  I wonder if my best friend would’ve had a name if she had made it out alive.

C4123. We had been friends since day one on the job. We had started our careers on the same day, and we were the only new members that warm and sunny morning. Although she was an Explorer, she was too intimated to talk to anyone else in the thirty-two-member crew, so we talked only to each other. C4123 had a spectacular sense of smell—one of the best of our generation. She could smell the good ripe fruit from the bad ones without even tasting them. She was humble about it too, and that’s how we became friends. The other Explorers weren’t as friendly.  I don’t think they liked that I kept asking them if I could tag along whenever they went outside. They didn’t understand why I would ever want to do something I wasn’t born for. C4123 let me tag along with her on the most basic missions sometimes. I liked to believe that she saw some innate skills in me that no one else did. I was chosen to be the Builder for the Explorers for a reason, right? Actually, I’m pretty sure I was just the first Builder born after the previous specialized Builder died. But that’s not the point.

I tried to stop thinking about C4123 so much, but the way she died was so…unusual. We had gone scavenging in the Concrete Expanse south of the main compound. I say “we”, but it was really her exploring the concrete, and me hiding in the grass nearby. I didn’t dare walk out there. There was nothing to hide under. I must have been psychic or something, because these clear metallic saucers appeared in the sky soon after we arrived. No one had ever spoke of anything like those before, but there they were. Underneath them, bright spots of light appeared, and the ground got alarmingly warm. I tried to warn her, but she was too far away and too engrossed in her senses. Suddenly, the saucer moved directly over her, and the bright light centered right over her body. I was blinded. The light was gone within seconds, but when I crawled over to her, she was dead. The bright light had charred her and her limbs were shriveled. She lay there, curled in her own soot. I didn’t need her sense of smell to know that she had been burnt all the way through.”

That’s the story I would tell about my life up to this point. Everything in there is the truth, but it’s not the complete truth. Things started going awry before C4123 and I went anywhere near the Concrete Expanse. Where would I put the part about the fruit trees completely disappearing overnight, with nothing left to show for but unnaturally clean-cut stumps?  How about when two-thirds of the colony was eradicated without a trace when part of the compound was scooped up, including the majority of the Fighters? Not a single trace! No creature we know of eats dirt. How about when the day after, when a sapling fell from the sky into the crater where part of our home once was? What was that all about?

The story I have right now makes sense. I sound cool, collected, and determined…maybe even brave, with a touch of self-deprecation.  There’s no need to include that I’m scared to death of my nameless future and the future of my colony. Maybe I’m just scared that I’ll never become someone that avenges her best friend. But really, I just tell myself stories to make sense of it all, and convince myself that one day, I’ll become someone whose stories are worth listening to, if there’s anyone left to listen. 

The distant sound of familiar footsteps tells me that the Explorers are making their way back now. I had taken the day off from building to mourn my friend, but being attached to each other is frowned upon around here—especially after everything that has happened.  Mourning is a waste of time when the future of our colony is in danger. I scramble onto my feet and shove a few pieces of dirt around as the Explorers single file into our main meeting chamber.

C4000, also known as Cinnamon or Lead Explorer, looks grim as she addresses her crew. Her head hangs with exhaustion. “We have a serious problem. Yes, another one. Are you all familiar with the massive fellow that lives near the bush 3,200 body-lengths westward?”

Everyone nods. We all know who he is. We don’t see him often, but he drags his gargantuan slimy body around occasionally and leaves sticky trails that are difficult to navigate around. It is inconvenient, but not really worth doing anything about. He isn’t threatening, even though he smells slightly rancid.

“We found him today,” she continues. “He was dead on the Concrete Expanse. Shriveled.”

Someone else voiced my internal question. “Burnt?”

“No. Dehydrated, it seems. He was covered in a white, foul-tasting substance. Not a hint of slime left. Completely crusted. He doesn’t even go to the Concrete Expanse... something moved him there.”

My head began spinning. Dried up? Moved? This definitely wasn’t anything I’ve heard of before. How could he just dry up? What was happening out on the Concrete Expanse? Is it related to the abduction of our colony?

Cinnamon quickly doles out exploration assignments for sun-up. Apparently she had deemed it too dangerous to return to the Concrete Expanse, although we had always had good luck with food out there. Fruits and sugary substances were found often. Without the fruit trees, the Concrete Expanse is one of our only options. Instead, Cinnamon focuses on looking for dead bodies we can eat. That’s how I know things are real desperate.

It suddenly occurs to me that this is my chance. I had never had any sort of advantage over the Explorers before, when it came to exploring. They are bigger, faster, and have significantly keener senses than me. I won’t call this situation well suited for me by any means, but at least we are all on the same playing field now. They are just as clueless and frightened about the situation as I am. This is my chance to do something real.

As Cinnamon dismisses us for rest, I become increasingly distressed. Builders aren’t allowed to leave the compound unaccompanied. Only Explorers have the sense of direction required to wander around alone outside—that’s why they’re Explorers. I could get lost out there. I could die. And I doubt anyone would even notice until the tunnels in the annex start caving in too much. I tuck myself between two soft pieces of dirt and try to settle my thoughts. I imagine counting the seeds of a strawberry to calm myself. Thankfully, sleep comes quickly.

I awake at the same time I always do—before the Explorers— and think about what to do. I think about what C4123 would’ve suggested. She was blunt, and she didn’t care much for our rigid social structure, even though she followed it. She probably would’ve said, “Hey, you’re one in 4,000 and you’ll probably die soon anyway. Go for it.”

I would’ve asked her if she would miss me, and she would’ve told me that she wouldn’t, and I had nothing to lose.

Ouch.

Well now, she would be right. What did I have to lose, really? The Explorers couldn’t risk themselves. Without them, the remaining members of the colony wouldn’t last, especially since most of the Fighters were gone already. The responsibility of the Explorer is too great, and their numbers too few. Me? I could either live to solve the greatest mystery of my time, or die from starvation, abduction, or whatever our fate may be.  I might as well make myself useful while I can—C4123 would’ve done it. The version of myself in my story would do it. Before I have time to let more logical fears consume me, I crawl through the narrow, dark, earthy exit tunnel and make my way towards the bright morning light.

I head southward from the camouflaged entrance of the Explorer annex, clamoring over rocks, leaves, and squishy dirt towards the Concrete Expanse just over the horizon. The sun casts its golden glow through the orangey trees from the left. The shadows unnerve me—the Eight Legs could be anywhere. I scuttle forward, trying not to think about it. I miss the protection of C4123. The landscape looks different, and I can’t quite decide why. I realize with a sinking stomach that I’m standing in a giant oblong footprint. The footprints are everywhere. Plants were trampled in the wrath of this creature, and these prints are unlike anything I’ve ever seen here. This thing wasn’t a local. I shiver with fear, but move forward robotically. It is now or never. I recount my story in my head to calm myself.

Halfway there and already winded, I stop to formulate some semblance of a plan.  Observation seems like the best option—I can hide in the grass as I did when C4123 was attacked. That will give me a good vantage point if the metallic saucers appear. I can also burrow into the ground if needed. Low risk. Moving forward, I cross the shifting landscape and begin maneuvering around the tall and sharp blades of grass. The sun continues to rise in the azure sky, and after what seems like a lifetime of endless climbing, the grass finally clears. I am at the edge of the enormous Concrete Expanse. It’s empty, and leaves rustle across the unforgiving surface. I sit there and wait, uneasy.

When the sun is nearly directly overhead, a spectacular vibration begins out of nowhere. I hold onto the grass for dear life, disoriented and terrified.  The vibrations end as suddenly as they began, but I quake as I register another soul-chilling sound. Things are moving towards me. Very large things. Massive shadows fall over me, but their movement is unlike anything I’ve ever seen before. They are smaller than trees, maybe the size of saplings, but thick. Warm blooded, by the look of them. They walk on their two back limbs, flailing off-balance awkwardly. There are three of them.

I freeze. The shadow over me has stopped moving. I turn, look up, and see a giant, hideous, white and pink face. Blue eyeballs the size of pinecones reveal themselves. This thing is disgustingly bald, and I’m overwhelmed with panic. I need to get out of here. The red, gaping hole in its face cracks open, and I see glimmers of sharp marble-like rocks. I am dead. I know it. With a flash, I’m flung into the air, higher than I have ever been, the wind whipping around me. I’m still holding onto to the blade of grass I was perched on, but it wasn’t attached to the ground anymore. I hold on with all six limbs and my mouth until I realize the sense of vertigo had passed. I hate making sudden movements because it draws attention to myself, but I don’t know what else to do.

I dart downwards, not knowing where to go except trying to reach the familiar safety of the ground.  I realize with horror than I am standing atop of this creature’s warm and fleshy skin. I half expect myself to disintegrate on the spot, but I keep scrambling downwards. The fleshy limb I’m scrambling over begins shaking violently. I bite down with full force, and my antennae overload from the intensity of high-pitch vibrations. Dizzy and deaf, I let go, accepting my fate. I tumble in free-fall for an eternity, it seems, and I brace myself for my body’s inevitable splattering on the Concrete Expanse. I hope it doesn’t hurt. At least I’ll die where my best friend died.

I am met with a surprisingly soft landing on the large grass patch where I had started my adventure.  As I pick myself up gingerly, I sense some vibrations that sound like… “Stoo-pit-ante.” I know this won’t be the last time this monster terrorized my kind, but for right now, I don’t care. I am alive, and I have something to report. I have my next chapter.