The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

(Chapter XIX)

Posted by Matt on February 21, 2011


It became quite apparent that they were probably not going to find somewhere else to live when they came upon what appeared to be one of the other hotels. It was about the same shape as the first one, same massive size around, some remnants of the colourful signs visible on the side, and on the ground. There was one crucial difference, though: this one was several stories shorter, having apparently collapsed a long time ago. Aia sunk to the ground when they got close enough to see its state; she was finally defeated. There was nothing. They had nowhere else to go.

“You know, maybe its not so bad; I like it better outside than in another hotel, anyway” Pearl said, continually contrasting her Big Sister with her sun-induced optimism. This was far from reassuring to Aia. She winced, preventing herself from screaming out then and there.

Accepting the reality of the situation, Aia began making rapid-fire internal calculations. There was no use in looking for the other hotels, not if they were going to be like this and take just as long to find. There was really only one option for now: find the beach again. There, at least, they could be liberated from the tyrannical dullness of the ruins. There she could at least have some food…or not, she reminded herself; not while Pearl is around. Aia hadn’t eaten for days. She knew what was coming, and had anticipated the return of the pangs for a while. She felt it was lucky that had yet to make their anger known once again, and hoped that it was the nourishment of the hotel food that kept her hunger at bay, and that it would do so for a little longer. She didn’t know what she would do once they came; maybe the thing she was trying not to do in front of her one-of-a-kind, fantastic Little Sister, maybe something far worse.

There was no time to waste. Aia got up, dusted herself off, and started moving straight north. It was the only direction she could really think to go. They would get to the beach eventually, wouldn’t they?

“Where are we going?” asked Pearl.

“We’re going to find the beach” was the emotionless reply.

“Oh, really? I liked it there. I can’t wait!”

The abandoned world continued as they followed a straight path, which of course meant going between stands and old buildings and around the rusted boxes. But there was goal this time, a place they knew they could go and be safe for at least a little while. It seemed to make the whole trip go much faster, as they tore through the ruins to find where the concrete ended and the water crept just ahead. Aia put little thought into anything but finding her old new home again. She would consider where their lives were going when they got there.

“I hope the nice old man found some place to live” Pearl stated. Aia nodded, but in her heart, she wasn’t so sure. This was the man who had ruined their lives for a second time with his rantings that may have been nothing more than paranoid delusions, and probably were, given their luck. She started to wish ill upon him. This hatred, in a way, made Aia feel better. It was good to blame someone other than yourself once in a while.

They mindlessly strode through the grey world, barely taking time to rest (despite Pearl’s repeated attempts to get them to slow down and interact, bringing up little things like the weather; Aia would have none of it), and were soon rewarded. Aia could hear her old favourite sounds again; the flowing, the shrieking. All that was missing was the gusting, but it was a very still day, so it was understandable. She started to pick up her pace, and even the the solar-charged Pearl had a hard time keeping up. They were almost there. Finally, something was going right.

After tearing through one last set of ugly stone structures, Aia could finally see the prize across the road: the water, the infinitely blue, infinitely vast water she had grown to love. It was not the same beach she had been to before: there were trees there in different spots, there was no little shelter, and the cliff side that had held up the park towards the clouds was nowhere in sight. But all the essential things; the water, the sand, they were there. For a brief moment, Aia had known happiness again. There was something there that she missed throughout their journey through the innermost world, the world of grey destruction and boredom. After the bitter disappointment, the ugly sights, and the frustration she associated with the ruins, she was able to embrace her days on the beach, before Pearl came back, despite the monstrous undertones they contained. They felt like the only happy memories she had left, after her time in the hotel had become tainted with the aftermath.

She ran towards the sand, just as Pearl had once towards her, wanting to once again embrace an old friend. She was tired of the endless searching, and now it could be finished. Hopefully for good. What would that mean for them? At that moment, she didn’t care. She just wanted to hold on to the textures, the sounds, the sights, and never let go.

“You really like this place, don’t you?” Pearl didn’t ask, but stated.

“I kind of do, yes”

“I like this place, too”

After a period of relaxation for both of them came the time for Aia for worry about the future. She was unsure of what both of them would do now that they were back in the so-called natural world. She would love it, adore it, if they could both live the simple life that she had found before Pearl re-entered her life. It would be easy enough; she knew Pearl didn’t need the same things she did, seemingly running on the sun’s rays, and she herself could subsist on the same strange creatures she had hunted before. But therein lay the problem: she couldn’t go back to killing for food. Not while Pearl was still there. What would she think of her then? She would discover her beloved Big Sister was a monster, that’s what would happen. Remember her reaction to the very idea of people eating other living things? She couldn’t bear the thought of seeing her like that again. This was part of the reason she had accepted her exile as beneficial to them both.

Besides that (and it was hard for her to get off that particular topic to think of others): what would Pearl have out here? Aia knew she didn’t need, didn’t deserve, the conveniences and comforts of civilized life; but Pearl did. She was a delicate thing, and while she has shown a surprising amount of adaptability in their harsh environment, how long could she really last? And why should she even have to worry about that? She should have a world where she didn’t have to worry about basic survival. Aia was willing to die out in the wilderness, but she was not ready to let the fate befall her precious Pearl.
What she needed to do was convince Pearl to go back to the park, or anywhere else really, even with her reservations. And the only reason she seemed to stick around was out of loyalty to Aia. Remove herself from the situation, and Pearl would likely be able go somewhere better for her (she hoped). Maybe she would relinquish her attachment if she discovered the truth: that Aia, her idol, was really an evil creature that kills without remorse. But no, she couldn’t do that. She had to convince her in a way that won’t completely destroy her view of her Big Sister; no, she couldn’t let herself disappoint another important person in her life.

Really, there was only one way to do that. Aia recognized this. The only way she could force Pearl into making a decision without being influenced by her presence was to disappear permanently. She had to die. That’s the only way Pearl would be able to move on. It is an odd thing, recognizing that the world is better off with you dead, but Aia had to make many decisions these days that seemed odd.

So while the two of them sat silently on the smooth sands, watching the sun go down and the sky drift from a reassuring orange to a dark velvety darkness pocked with blinking lights and taking in the wonders of the water, Aia plotted ways to end her life. She thought of the possibility of faking her death, but realized she couldn’t allow it to appear ambiguous in any way, fearing Pearl might hold out hope that she was still alive. Besides, surely she couldn’t keep up the facade if she was still there to see Pearl heartbroken; she would rather be gone, so she wouldn’t have to experience that, or anything, ever again. She thought of various ways she could kill herself, but most of them were excessively messy or would look intentional, which is also not something she wanted. No, it had to be something that looked as natural and unavoidable as possible. What that could be, she would need more time to think up.

In the meantime, she had other things to do. First among her priorities was to prevent herself from accidentally returning to her monstrous habits, even with the knowledge that her terrible hunger would soon return. It would be difficult; chances are as soon as she saw one of her favoured victims again, the thoughts would return, the idea that just one would be okay, she won’t notice, I’ll just be careful. Suck it up, she thought. No matter how bad it got, she couldn’t give in. She couldn’t let Pearl down again.

It occurred to her that starving to death might be the best choice of death, as slow and painful as it probably would be. It was guaranteed to happen, natural, clean, and conclusive. It would be the contingency plan, then, if she couldn’t think of anything else. As long as it gets the job done, it’s good.

It was night. The waves did not relent. The little beacons of light in the darkness signalled them in a language as indecipherable as the Poster People’s. Pearl was amazed at this sight; throughout their travels, she did not have an entirely clear view of the night sky. With no structure pollution, she was finally free to observe its majesty.

“It’s pretty!” she said, enthralled.

“I know”

“I never knew there were so many!”

“Neither did I”

“Do we know what the stars are? How far away are they?”

“I don’t know”

“Do you think we’ll ever know?”

“Maybe. Who knows what might happen”

“I hope so. They must be pretty important if there’s so many of them”

They sank next to each other at the edge of the beach where sand met concrete, Aia curled around Pearl, surrounding her, protecting her from the elements, as friendly as they seemed (she knew they could turn suddenly). They slowly dozed off, nary a word between them. As Aia’s mind began to slow down before finally settling to rest, she went over what needed to be done one last time. She had to normalize it within herself, let it sink in, the magnitude of what it was, and all the things that were riding on it. The only way Pearl could live her life is if Aia ended hers. There’s nothing else she could do. This was for the best.

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