“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 in 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 gentle, loving voice. How would I bear it? I fought my great desire to turn and dart to him, or 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 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 he 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 control my emotions for these last few seconds.
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 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 our futures and to what would become 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 behind the next. The four older candidates followed behind me, the taste of anticipation mingling 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 alone? 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 squeezed my eyes closed.
“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. That vision sent more shivers. I rubbed away the feeling. Fear controlled 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 they 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 I almost opened my eyes, but instead fell into a somersault, ending in a stand as I had been trained.
The grasses felt soft beneath my bare feet. The air smelled completely different… fresh and clean. Was it safe to look? Sure that the diminished music meant safety, I slowly peeked to see what tickled my toes. My feet rested on an unbelievable world of vegetation. I turned my eyes upward. Plant life flourished about me. An insect landed on a bloom and dipped its head inside until completely hidden in the bright yellow flower.
With every cell overwhelmed, my delight leapt. Miraculous science! Holy green gravity, it was unbelievable. We did it! I accomplished what I 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 dreaming?
As hard as it was for my mind to accept my surroundings, 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 to the trees highest branches. They were much taller than I imagined.
This was real. Father’s machine worked! We were here!
The much too-loud screech of the hole and noise of the water pouring into this world 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 came the silence, and then an angry hiss. Elation left me as the air around the running water shifted to a dingy gray. Impending doom gripped my chest as Candra’s face peered through the wall of water. She smiled in disbelief at the world she saw. Why had the pool not spit her out? Why did it hold her to itself? Dread filled my belly even before I heard her shrill scream.
With half her body through, she hovered just ten feet away, her arms stretched toward me. The look of astonishment fled from her face as she let out a sound more horrific than I’d ever heard. Terrified, my mind blanked, body froze. We had no training of this otherworldly power. A moment later, Teresa was at her side, next Florentina, and finally Marva. They did not clear the entryway either and instead, floated helplessly as the glorious and glowing blue water turned a dirty brown.
The scent of a burned out candle permeated the air. Candra’s skin was pulling light from the water into itself. Every blood vessel seeped its treasure from her skin. The others bled too. Nearly instantly, they were painted in crimson. No longer lit, the water turned as dark as an endless hole and the black backdrop taunted us. Panicked, I barked the order.
“HURRY! MOVE! MOVE!” I screamed, but none of us obeyed.
Unable to aide them the slightest bit, I stood shocked at their suffering when a brilliant flash of light struck the portal. Their shrieks filled me with horror as I watched them writhe frantically in the midair, black watery grave. Like the dark liquid that hung motionless, the moment was frozen in time. Candra stopped screaming. She was gone.
No! No! No!
Mere seconds dragged like eternity as Teresa’s voice took on a high pitched squeal. Her eyes nearly bulged from her head. I viewed my team members disappear, sucked into nothingness as the Pool of Light made a sizzling sound. Then it slammed shut with a thunderous clap. The water disappeared and I stared at the now empty space in the beautiful green world, my face awash in tears.
What just happened? Nothing could be real. I lost them all, lost all who I’d known, those 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!” The words choked. “Father, take me back! I want to come home!” I sobbed. “Bring me home! I’m sorry! I’m sorry!”
I gave way to gravity and fell as a lost spirit to the trembling Earth.
With my cheek against the cool earth, tears dried in the warm breeze. The feeling haunted me. Why had I not reached out to my team when they were in unfathomable pain? I was the curer, the healer, yet stood idly by and watched them each die. I’d failed my life’s purpose, to lead and keep safe and healthy all citizens in the new community. Guilt annihilated my soul.
“I’m so sorry,” I bawled as if they could hear a single word of it.
Crumpled into a ball, I wailed to the enormous trees, now wholly and utterly alone in this strange green world.
Why had I lived?
Genre – Fantasy / Romance
Rating – NC17