The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

(Chapter XVIII)

Posted by Matt on February 19, 2011

Previously

They emerged on the western side of the main building, beside a rusted dumpster that wafted the scent of old garbage, intensified by years of rain. They went to the road straight ahead of them, and followed it north, the opposite of where they came from. Aia was fearful that if they tried to go back the way they had came, they would be spotted by the doorman.

Once again, they found themselves in the maze of mass destruction, without any idea of where to go. Aia had hoped that there previous experience would make the search for any signs of life and shelter easier; but it didn’t. Turns in the road were chosen arbitrarily, and they were rewarded for it by more of the old, grey same. What were they looking for, again? Another hotel? Something else? At this point, Aia would have loved to go back to her beach. It didn’t really matter, though. They just had to find something, somewhere. Aia just hoped she wouldn’t be driven insane before then.

Days were consumed in the search. They spent nights in the roofless former buildings, even in the pouring rain. Every time the sun rose again, they would wake up and confirm to each other that this would be the day they would find another opportunity; it happened so suddenly before, it was sure it could happen again. The took this as the new routine, and they were able to keep up their facade of hope a surprisingly long time. They had to; if one started to show their expectations lowering, their demeanour darkening, the other one would join them, and the mutual despair would likely be the end of them both. For each others’ sake, they stretched out their optimism to its thinnest. But they couldn’t keep it up indefinitely; they knew someone was going to break, confess their true feelings, and wallow in the despair of the situation. Who would be the first to do it, though? And what would make it worse, if I go first, or you?

Aia had spent much of the first era of their return more or less indifferent to the situation. She had seen it all before, she knew all the emotions, the disappointments especially. At once they seemed completely uninteresting, just a deadly dull period in her life. Nothing to even react to. The apathy may have prevented her from dying of boredom. But once she realized that there was a chance that this would be all there is for her, and for Pearl, that the ruins of some once-great complex would be the only home they would know, the indifference became to protect her from being eaten away by fear.
More time passed, still nothing. Aia began to feel the frustration boiling within her. Why was she in this situation? Why does every good thing in her life seem to slip away, and she can do nothing about it? The eternal question: why? Why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why why?

She began to focus entirely on Pearl. Pearl was the light in her life. She was the beautiful gift she was given by someone or something or nothing, to give her something to live for. She did everything for her because otherwise she had no reason to do anything. She considered herself worthless; abandoning Brother Sal was the first sign of this, but the devolution into the monster she now had to hide was all the proof she needed to know that she has been right before. She had no reason to work for herself; but for someone else, someone she had been assigned the task of caring for, she could do it all.
Why, then, did Pearl seem to undo everything she did to make life for better for her? She thought her exile would let Pearl move on, find a new home with someone who will never commit the atrocities she did and ruin her life; but she followed her, avoiding her chance at happiness. She thought that their new home in the hotel would fix everything, that it would be a perfect place where they never had to worry about anything ever again. But of course, she was convinced it was bad, and in her simple little morality, that meant she had to shunt it out of her life, no matter the cost. Why did she constantly do this? They seemed to be at cross purposes.

More time. More of the same. Is this place endless? Just a limitless stretch of ugly grey? At this point, Aia would be willing just to find any sign the colossal water again. She was happy there, and she was sure Pearl would be too, with time. She wanted to hear the whoosh whoosh whoosh again, see the vast blueness, feel the sand beneath her. It felt like she had left the monster’s life on the beach as long ago as she had left her civilized life in the park. She hated the concrete, hated the sight of the old and ugly buildings with nothing in them, hated the feel of little sharp pointed debris beneath her feet, hated the rusted boxes parked on the sides of the road. She hated them more than she hated the conspirators who sent her outside, more than even herself and her freakish desire for flesh. Only the little plants that sometimes sprung forth from the cracks in the road reminded her of what it was like to not hate one’s surroundings.

They kept going. Aia begins to notice a strange change in Pearl. At first, she still seemed rather solemn; she was evidently happy they escaped that evil place, but her joy overtaken and beaten down by the relentless ruin around her. However, one day, Pearl seemed to be once again full of energy, like Aia had not seen since they lived in their little flat. She became adventurous, always surging ahead to explore the ruins, calling back to tell Aia what she was seeing ahead. The optimism that had seemingly died out in the hotel had come back with a vengeance. She seemed to illuminate the rest of the world, shining like never before (in fact, at several points, she even thought that she could see Pearl changing colour in the sunlight). In what felt like the latest in a long line of darkest moments for Aia, this shift stood out even more.

Aia asked her if she felt alright. Pearl told her she never felt better. Even after all this? Yes, but it’s just a few bumps on the way, we’ll find what we’re looking for. You really think so? Yes.

She was baffled.

Still moving ahead. Aia begins to notice some patterns in Pearl’s new found vigour. It seemed to die out a tad at night. On the few grey days when the rain moved in and they were forced to take shelter in the one of the buildings that still had a roof, it seemed to be absent. The rest of the time, she seemed completely energized. What was the connection? Unlike most everything else, Aia actually wanted to study and think about this thoroughly, and wouldn’t stop herself in fear it would make life difficult. She was unused to such voluntary studying.

After reviewing all the things she could observe in Pearl during her cheerful episodes, Aia comes to one conclusion: the sun has something to do with it. It was the only thing that was present when she was in her good mood and absent when she was more on Aia’s level. So, that was that. But what about the sun made Pearl suddenly become lively again? She observed one thing she had never thought about before: Pearl was never really exposed to much of the sun throughout her life. Nobody was. In the park, the sun was either filtered in, projected through the dirty glass tiles on the ceiling, or through tiny shafts that squirmed their way in via broken tiles, which also let the rain in. They all knew the sun was there; they could feel its warmth, and there was light after all. But it was almost always just a reflection of the sun, not the real thing. Outside allowed her to not only see the clouds and feel the full extent of the rain’s wrath, but also brought her that much closer to the real sun. In their second home in the hotel, Pearl was able to feel the sun a little more than usual thanks to their deck, but most of her time was once again spent indoors, but with the light provided by the reflection of the sun replaced by something even more artificial. It was also the place where she had looked the most distressed.

Aia asked Pearl what she thought of the sunlight. She said she was happy to finally see where the light was really coming from. Do you like it better outside than inside? Kind of. Far from conclusive evidence, but Aia took it all the same.

“My, my…”, Aia thought, “there always seems to be something new to discover with her. She really is a miracle.” There was no other possible explanation. Aia considered all of it again: she looks nothing like her, floats on air, doesn’t need to eat, and only needed the sun, something neither of them had ever experienced firsthand, to feel better about a dire situation. Aia was amazed that she would be granted such a wonderful gift.

Still looking. Solving Pearl’s optimistic streak provided Aia with something to keep her mind occupied for a little while. But now it was over, and she had nothing to look forward to but despair. At first, she simply made the next step after realizing again what a beautiful thing Pearl was: something so precious needed to be protected. She was once again struck with her responsibility. And she returned to the frustration her life provided in trying to fulfil that responsibility. And she came back to where that had led them: wandering the deserted concrete mountains, finding nothing.

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