The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

(Chapter VI)

Posted by Matt on January 18, 2011

Chapter I
Chapter II
Chapter III
Chapter IV
Chapter V

The shop was closed that day, as the metal mesh stairs were rusted from recent rainfall (which seemed to become heavier and more frequent every week) and were dangerously weak, needing an emergency welding. The rain left much of the lower level flooded as well, as the drainage systems were quite obviously never made to contain that much water. The people were demanding both fast and permanent solutions, including filling the broken ceiling panels. They were afraid the water would seep into the coolers and ruin the food supply. The Council had become strangely silent. There hadn’t been a new pamphlet for some time.

Aia learned that the flooding problem was especially bad near the pond, which was overflowing and spreading its muddy contents over the streets. That was unfortunate, she thought. For a time after her conversation with the security officer, she couldn’t bear to go back to the east side and risk being spotted again by that angry dwarf. She had begun to hate him and his ‘associates’ for robbing her of one of the most serene sections of the park. Maybe it was a blessing in disguise, after all. Aia could make the best of things if she really put her mind to it.

Having the day off was also fortuitous, as the pangs that day were especially bad. For a while they had become the least of her problems, having become overshadowed by the ones they were directly responsible for. The pain didn’t suddenly recede in light of more pressing matters, as she really wished they did, but she was somehow able to ignore them better than usual. Not today, though; not without her routine. Now it was all she could focus on. Churning churning churning. Like her inside were slowly being ground into dust.

She decided to take a break and go to one of the stands on main street and get something to eat. A tablet, a cornmeal roll, or some chocolate. She was annoyed to find out that even the minor event of buying food was causing her to make new observations about her environment. In her current state, an over-complication of matters, especially the ones she had at one time considered normal everyday matters, was intrusive and aggravating. But she couldn’t stop noticing the little things now, small problems she could have easily and joyfully overlooked before when she wasn’t part of some frightening conspiracy. She didn’t need this, especially not when her gut felt like it was being torn to shreds.

But on her mind went, despite her pleadings. Cornmeal, tablets, chocolate, sticky candy: was that really all they had to eat? Some chalky tablets made to taste like a dozen or more different things she’d never heard of, chocolate in a thousand shapes and sizes, and whatever could be concocted from corn meal or flour? She had always lived with these things, and never asked if there was more (“Could I even imagine what ‘more’ would be?”, she wondered). She loved chocolate in her younger years, and Brother Sal was kind enough to get her some every once in a while as a special gift; it was usually one of the bars. She grew out of it as she took on her responsibilities, figuring out that it was a luxury and money could be spent on more and better things.

Then she started making more connections, which she knew was going to make things worse. For all these years she’s eaten the food that was available, the stuff sold at the stands or in the stores, the stuff they stored in the coolers and was apparently always there, left by the Poster People no doubt. For the same amount of time, she’s had the terrible pain; it felt like hunger, but it was a vengeful hunger that had long ago stopped playing nice and was now demanding to get what it wanted. But what did it want? Eating the tablets and the baked corn meal was able to satisfy it, but not for long. How could it be hunger if food doesn’t solve it? It must be something else. Unless…

She unintentionally returned to the terrible night in the midway. She had to stop herself from going any further. No no no no we’re not going back to that, I don’t want to know just stop it now. No matter how hard she tried to exorcise that memory, it came back again and again. All this analyzing and noticing and detail led her back to it. She hated it. She wanted it to stop. She was paying for it enough externally, she didn’t feel it to be at all necessary that she should pay for it internally as well. But it seemed to be an inescapable byproduct of everything else that was going on. All the evils from one box, sustaining each other and creating more, doubling, tripling her troubles every moment. Oh, how she wished there was some way to stop it all…but not that. Definitely not that.

She bought a box of candy-coated chocolate and went back to watch the welders at work, removing the rusted sections of the stairs with blowtorches and pliers. She knew a lot more about welding than she really had much use for. She had spent much of her free time when she was younger observing Brother Sal on the job, fixing structural supports and using the scrap metal from the yards to make new parts for the machinery they used at the stands or in the shops. Sometimes he would take random pieces of old steel and show her how easily he could bend it into any shape, so long as he had the right tools. She had thought for many years that she would follow in his footsteps and become a welder. Sal was supportive of it, always willing to show her some of the tricks of the trade, but in the end he made it known that he didn’t care what she decided on doing, as long as she found something she enjoyed doing. “The best feeling you can get is doing something you love and getting to help others in the process”, he told her.

Did she love working at the print shop? She was essentially there because one of Brother Sal’s friends was the previous manager, and he offered her the job out of sympathy after Sal passed away. Certainly she didn’t hate it. It felt tedious at times, and she sometimes got sick of reading the Council’s condescending-sounding instructions over and over again. But she got used to all of it, and it was pleasant enough. The pay was good, she was able to get all the things Pearl and her needed from it. That didn’t answer the question, did it? She began to wonder if she would have been happier as a welder. She stopped herself after a time, though; she knew what would happen if she kept on like that.

She left for home early; the repair was probably going to take the rest of the work day, so there was no point sticking around. She walked down the familiar streets, now lined with numerous little murky puddles. She heard the people who lived next to the walkways complaining about how the water was getting inside their flats, and how the Council’s leak prevention tips were rubbish. Someone else would often pipe up and say that it worked fine for them, leading to a heated debate between the parties. Aia never thought it important to find out who eventually come out victorious.
She began noticing things again, which she was afraid of. Thankfully, it was nothing too destructive; she looked up, and even from down below could make out all the broken panels on the ceiling. There were a lot of them, really. Many more than she had ever noticed before. No wonder there was so much rain finding its way in. It wasn’t raining now, but she couldn’t see much of anything else coming through the open spots; not any clouds, nor the sun. She sometimes saw clouds when she looked at the broken panels on the upper level; that’s how she knew they were there. The sun’s beams were reflected through the crystalline walls of the dome, although the years have dulled the effect somewhat. Even so, she enjoyed seeing real rays of light shining through; a reflection is good, but limited, but the real thing has an effect that cannot be equaled.

She began to think about outside. Outside was a thing of legend in the park, a place no one went except criminals and the insane (who would likely have become criminals anyway, so it was no big loss). There were a few doors that led there, the largest ones on opposite ends of the park and several more scattered throughout the outer walls between them, but they were usually heavy and hard to move by yourself. Although there were security booths by every single one of these doors, the officers rarely paid much attention to them. They didn’t expect many people to go out, and they certainly didn’t expect anyone to get back in. If you were outside, you were dead. No one could think of anything else that could happen. Even if the outside really wasn’t so bad (and from what she heard from people who heard it from their friends who heard it from the officers themselves, it either is or it isn’t), surely being separated from the rest of society would doom you. No food, no companionship, no access to The Maker, nothing to do. Who could survive that? Who would want to survive that?
But the sun was outside. So were the clouds, and the rain. Aside from criminals, the insane, and death, that’s all the things Aia knew were there. Oh, and sometimes there were loud booming and whooshing noises that would come with the rain. She began to wonder what else was there. She started to feel like Pearl, always wanting to know more. She knew she would never get the answers. She concluded that she could live with that.

She also began to notice the Poster People, something she hadn’t done in a while. They were an eternal presence all over the park; every bit of free space on every structure included one of their enigmatic artifacts. At a young age you were told about them, how they created the park and all the things we survive on, and how they vanished a long time ago. You might be told why the Poster People built the park and disappeared, but when you talked to others about it, you learn that they were given a different explanation. At that moment, you accept that there is no good answer, and give up on it. Did it really matter why, after all? Will it make our lives any better? Probably not. The Poster People then become as normal and, in a way, uninteresting as everything else. The signs are just part of the background, no longer some relic of an alien time worthy of intense scrutiny.

They always look so happy in their two-dimensional resting place. Was it intentional, maybe to make these signs a hopeful image for all who gaze upon them? Or were they really just happy all the time?There was a variety of them, too, with lots of different shapes, sizes, and colours. Not as large or drastic a variety as the people in the park now though. Barely anyone actually looked like anyone else, even if they were Brother and Sister, although there were still some little details that could show they are related (which is why Pearl is such a peculiarity, she remembered). The only people who look really alike are the councillors. Thinking of them, Aia noticed that they do kind of look like the Poster People, but not exactly. There were little differences between them: none of the Poster People she saw had ears nearly as big as Reid’s, for example. But there were more fundamental differences between them, although she couldn’t identify what exactly it was. Maybe there are no words for it? The Poster People just didn’t really look like anyone she had ever seen; they looked like they were from another world, or maybe even something further than that. Nothing of them matched how she perceived other people; not the colours, not the dimensions, not anything. But for some reason, they did appear that they would be right at home in the park. She couldn’t really pinpoint why, but the people and the environment seem…made for each other. They must have been exactly that, then.

But then, she thought…what are we?


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