Continuing from where we left off, this is the next instalment of my novel, “The Inventor”. It concludes chapter 1 (links below).
I could see it now, the light refracting through it, fresh and crisp. It had been snowing the day I was going to Prophet’s Outpost to find my mother, I remembered then. So, I must’ve been close by, assuming not much time had passed. How long had it been? I was so close to finding her. She had been missing for years and no one goes missing anymore. All record of her, gone. Mùguāng sìchù. Eyes everywhere. That’s what we’re all told, in both languages mostly. Many of us learned Mandarin; it gave you better prospects. Some phrases make more sense in Mandarin than they do in English. Maybe my mother was there, in Aquatia. Not with my father, though. He had a different woman every day, it seemed. My mother wouldn’t have been one of those. Jax might have been. I wondered what they spoke in Aquatia. This was how my mind worked; frequent flights to escape reality – in this case, the reality that someone had buried me. An ordeal which only cemented the thought in my mind. Had I discovered something about my mother and father? I must have been on the right track. The relief washed over me like the white light that had made it down through the last half-metre of loose snow and I accelerated, my mind kept sharp only by the pain, and the shifting image of my mother’s face.
I swam the final centimetres through the dirt and gravel and snow, upwards to the light. Breaking through to the surface, I can only imagine what it might have looked like to an observer. Having just caught a glimpse of sight once more, I was once again blinded by a powerful lamp shining cold, white light down on me in the moment I escaped the icy ground. I could feel the shock on my retinas: a dull, squeezing pain, and for a moment I thought what a cruel irony it was to be blinded here, now, after all that. I covered my face with a forearm and looked back towards the hole I had climbed out of. The hole in which someone had buried me. Deep. Diagonal. Despite the strong white light, it was hard to see very far down into the hole. I had climbed at an angle – straight up had proven far too difficult – and all I could see was a trail of blood leading from the hole to me.
It was then that I realised the true extent of my injuries for the first time. I made the awful mistake of looking at my wounds: the blood on my hands, my scraped shins, elbows, and the rest. The dirt, several splinters… and then the pain. I cried out. I couldn’t help myself. I scooped up nearby snow to try to numb my legs and hands. Or was it like when people with chronic pain injure themselves to get relief? Cold hurt was different to broken-bone hurt. It was more indifferent, unfeeling. Heartless pain. I think I felt some blood in my hair, too, and on gentle inspection I found it. A fresh source of pain hitherto unnoticed – a sizeable wound where some of my hair was missing: there my fingers trod, causing me to breathe in sharply and moan in agony. Agony. From the Greek, meaning contest. Because when you’re dying, at the end, that’s your final struggle. The last contest for life. Your agony.
The irony of what I had just done wasn’t lost on me. Someone had gone to all the trouble to put me in a coffin and bury it. What else were they trying to bury? What else will come out of the woodwork for them with me?
Before the Collapse, I was a photographer. People paid good money for me to take pictures at weddings. That dream… I’ve been looking for pictures of my parents for so long. I had one once. A faded old picture of both of my parents having dinner in a restaurant. Unfortunately, they weren’t the only people in the photograph. Just two of many at some sort of work event. Frozen in time and place from over thirty years ago. Now I don’t have the photograph anymore. Whatever memory I have poorly preserved by my imaginative brain. It would be good to even see that photo again.
I could see my father whenever I wanted. Pictures of him are everywhere. Posters, paintings, photographs, video footage. Always smiling, always working the crowd even with only two dimensions. The smile wasn’t ever for me. When my mother left, he made me stay. Out of spite for her, maybe – or perhaps he thought he could manipulate me. He changed his mind two years later and told me to leave. Whatever his plans were for me, I don’t believe he ever had time to put them in motion. By that point we’d received news that my mother had died, so I couldn’t stay with her. But I was already seventeen and growing my trade, so what did I need them for? I later learned that she had merely gone underground.
All this in my mind to distract from my teeth chattering in the merciless cold. The light of the overhead lamp provided no warmth. I stood up and took a few steps, not certain of the ground beneath my feet – my feet. No shoes. No protection. I hadn’t noticed, because they were a little blue. I thought I was wearing blue shoes. I laughed at this to the sky. The laughter was momentary relief. My feet were dying, frostbitten, perhaps I wouldn’t walk on them again after this, but I thought that my feet were shoes. I was high on my own pain. It reminded me of a time when I was six, or was I seven at the time? I had gone outside to play with Tamika in the snow, so excited to be let out. The year before, I had been too sick to go out. Mum wouldn’t let me, but this time Mum was the one who was sick, so she wasn’t there to stop me. She also wasn’t there to do up my shoes properly, so little me lost a shoe in the snow and carried on anyway, because that’s the sort of child I was. For about five minutes, at least, before I limped home, crying because my foot was all grazed and cut, and had gone a scary shade of blue.
I needed to get my feet warmed up. I turned away from my burial site and my eyes were finally adjusting to the cold light. This time, cold as in sterile. Clean. Unflavoured. Pure.
Join me again soon for Chapter 2…