(a working title)
by L. Jay Mozdy
Into one of the many small, dirty ground level windows among the lengthy row along the street, the kind of window high on a wall, against a plain-white, drop ceiling full of florescent lights, dust-filled sunshine beamed through, onto the back of his bald head, through his thick glasses, then focused to brighter blotches on the letter under his pen. “Dear Sir,” it states, “The seed in question, while useful for our commercial purposes, will not only harm humans if consumed, but will disable the soil and invariably the Earth itself.”
He addressed the envelope, sealed it, neatly slipped it into his coat pocket and headed for the door, then he struck, turned and threw a lit match into the alcohol soaked papers trailing through the room full of beakers, chemicals and computers.
With the letter on its way through the post; he clumped up the stairway into his den, poured a large glass of scotch, drank it straight down sitting at his desk, lit a fat cigar, took a few draws, placed it neatly in the ashtray and watched it burn for a second, opened the desk drawer, reached in, felt the weight of it in his steady hand, pressed it against his temple, pulled the trigger and bled out.
Sidewalks busy themselves watching traffic pass them by ‘till evening breathes on a concrete-grey building across the street. Sandblasted windows close their blinds to the moonshine’s staggering below in the shade, hatless, wrinkled and salted from the day. Kerchiefs cover their sunken, unshaven faces; eyes, red from dust and corn liquor, round, open and bulging, watching a thunder-less cloud of dry, impotent earth lean on a trepidant, fashion-less mass; crippled, waiting for the storm’s aggregate to scold another face from everything in its path.
Please don’t come this way.
An aromatic, thickly sweet resonance hangs on the taste to its pollutant grit in everything; everything crunches between painful teeth. Soak fuelcorn silk in what’s left of cloves, chew like tobacco, spit the juice into a corn mash chincha. It will soothe, but no one is ever rid of the corn’s sterilizing effects; infertile, jejune.
All for the fuel, like a rash, the fuelcorn grows in patches, green for an hour, then to seed, more like a dandelion, definitely not like corn. A moment later, it’s caught in the wind, imbedding itself in anything it can adhere to, growing to a stiff, fibrous, genetically altered weed with exorbitant ears and stalks; maturing with large, sticky, sweet fruit, like a watermelon on a skinny vine. Bulging, fat fruit, ideal in sugar content to produce alcohol for fuel ten times what its edible predecessor was bringing to a fuel-starved economy. Every part of the plant is wrung and mashed, chewn into great festering pots of inedible porridge, bubbling like bowls of breakfast that no one could eat; there was dirt to swallow.
Her dress was torn at the shoulder. The flap revealed her breast, but was covered by a crying child. Her shoes were gone; hair was covered in the dirt that the two men had laid her down in. As her child cried out for her, she was beaten across the mouth to shut it. Somehow she managed to free her mind enough to go somewhere else while the two men took turns abusing themselves and her. The child’s cries were in harmony with the rainless storms that surrounded them. Showers of ash and dirt came falling with every concussion; a dry- heave with every blow to her head they gave her; concussions from the storms that pounded the dry earth. Flashes of searing light cracked the darkness. Images shifted before her eyes as each flash lit them. The men moved around her in between the shock waves from the storm. One man, then the other, beat her and entered her, though she was not there. She didn’t feel anything. Scratching the dirt, the faces, as she began to reach out for the crying child, arms crossed her face in the flashes of light. The arms were hers, and the arms were theirs. Hers were reaching through the darkness, through her open and closed eyes, through the earth, the dust, the storm, the men, herself, to the cries. The cries were hers and her child’s. The storm cried. The echoes were flashing. Blows to her head and chest made her exhaust her capacity.
Slowly, everything started to move so slowly. Her hair was encrusted with blood. The rain she thought was coming from all the noise that was heard from the sky, never showed. Her skin was raw, her vagina felt like it was full of those dirty men and she prayed to some unknown near God that could take her. Her child cried as the wind filled its mouth with dirt. Her eyes were nearly closed, her mouth was swollen, her nose, if it was there, was certainly broken. She could hardly breathe. Children cry, she thought, hers was crying as loud as she was crying, inside. She learned that she will never cry again.
She knew the numbness of death, now, and welcomed it, though not without her child. Picking up the baby, looking into its opened, sound-filled, dirt-filled mouth, she busied her mind with the thought that she will just keep moving.
They walked through the flashing night. Mindless, numbing repercussions swallowed them; it moved the skin, hair and nearly knocked the two of them back to the ground. Flashing memories of the men who had their fill and took-off into darkness had weakened her for an instant. Her feet hurt; she didn’t care. She held on to her child and walked into the pounding and flashing outburst. Her hair was stiff now, as it dried in the wind. She raked her hand across her face to move a fallen clot of hair; it broke off and dropped to the ground.
During a flashing thunder-strike a building was visible. Barely seeing anything at all, but catching a glinting light in the distance, walking toward it, she kicked a stone and fell on the hard ground, and her baby, who had not stopped crying. Its crying was good; still alive and fighting. She picked up the child with an exhale of absolute pain that froze her entire body. Another flashing seizure from the night threw another handful of earth into the sky and down again in bits and pieces; raining dirt, ash and a current of pain that ran from her center throughout her body. Her vision from the pain was filled with a colored light. It felt as if she had slept on her feet for an instant that the pain took her from herself. As fast as the pain came, it went, and she held onto her child, walked toward the building.
Marble, slick, hard, shining, cold marble that felt good against her skin was what she collapsed on. White pillars and stairs covered the entire entranceway. Between the two pillars in the center of the building was a door; brown, wooden, carved with an inscription. Between the flashes of light from the sky, the ash and dirt falling and the constant thumping, she managed to stand, climb the stairs and fall dead on the doorstep. She emptied on the white marble. Her baby was crying and squirming in the deliverance its mother had left.
Through the night the convulsion continued. Blue morning light didn’t stop anything from falling, nor did it stop the storm; the bombardment of resonate percussions. The waves filled the air like wind, only this wind was full of sand and seeds that penetrated, burned the skin if you stood in it for any longer than a few moments. The baby was silent on the marble stoop, sitting in its mother’s dried blood. The mother’s body was stiff and still, her skull cracked from the falling and the beating she had endured all night. Now the child was learning that it is of no use to cry, or is it learning the quiet brightness of its own coming death.
Distant earthquakes from solid, constant pounding into the earth were softer now. Flashing lightning was dimmer, because of the dawning, though still there and visible, but farther, it seemed than it was in the night. Windswept ash, sand and seeds passed by in clouds that went from the ground to as far as one could see into the sky. The sunlight that could be seen through the cloud made everything look red, brownish-red; dun.
Inscribed with: “Asserting the Truth,” the ten-foot high oak doors that had carvings of people from all over the world, opened with a smooth, well-oiled ease. Something with that density opening like a vault door, as much as it did, took care, precision and control. A man in a white, thick, cloth covering-garment walked into the sandy wind. He wrapped his face and head with a hood, bent over and looked at the child; too weak to cry, or too sore to cry, the child laid on the marble, dirty with dried blood. The man turned the woman over, examined her, reached into his pocket and opened a bottle of water, poured it over her face and wiped away the blood with the hem of his robe. The water washed away the blood, but made visible the beating she took. He released a sigh in anger and yearning for what life she endured. His face was not seen, but his voice was heard. He picked up the soundless child with closed eyes, poured the rest of the water over the baby’s face to wash away the dirt and blood; it squirmed a little and moaned. The man gathered the baby, turned and went inside, closing the doors behind him, leaving the woman’s body, the child’s mother, outside to deteriorate in the sandblasting storm. Her body wouldn’t last the day out there. It will be picked apart by the wind and carried away. The Earth has a way of keeping her with us.
Stone after stone, five hundred feet high, the Affirmation erupted into the sky as a mountain diminished into flat bare ground; lifeless dirt. A wall made of brick, stone, concrete and mortar surrounded the miles of land encapsulating what was to contain the cornfields growing the altered seed, supposedly generating a never-ending supply of fuel and food for all who occupy the Affirmation and those who feed the great machine supplying power. Invariably, though, the walls couldn’t contain the corn. This slab, this grey and glass mass sticking straight up into the sky, capped by a gold sphere and a beacon of light throbbing into the distance, pivoting on a gold spire, housed the Affirmation’s occupancy, who controlled all activity within the surrounding ten-foot walls.
One window in the middle of the simple slab has the figure of him watching people haphazardly scatter from a storm. He does not move from the window. Long roughly hewn clothing, frayed and dirty, hang from thin, scabbed bodies running to huddle against the wall hoping to be able to breath for another day, or at least through the hour or two it will unpromisingly take for the storm to pass. Wind and dirt, seeds and screaming scrape along the sidewalk; stuffing their faces into corners and any crevice found without an immovable object in it already. Weakness is torn by the collar and slammed to despair and crawling back to hide under the clothes of another, if they dare the threats and further beating from the one above them wearing their drape. But to breathe is the only thing for the moment. An open mouth will fill with sand and drown any effort to gasp again. People die, naturally, they die in frustration and want of breath. A lung full of dirt will cause a vomitus cough for a long time, until it brings the comfort and peace of death. They let go and something is seen leaving them. Bodies no longer need anything but burial, most are left to be covered by storms that stick germinating seeds on the corpses to take moisture; nourishment lasting the length of life oozing from the fuelcorn. Gone in the moment after, the moment another storm crosses the street.
Like sweeping a curtain open, the street fills with people after the fallout. Nothing is recalled unless it’s edible or barter. Clothes are removed from the dead and anything of value is swiped clean. The empty body is thrown over the wall while the eyes dry, fill with fuelcorn roots and the skulls are left to powder in the heat of the sunlight. The orbit swallows the dry earth, fills the cranium and the entirety shifts back and forth until it sinks into the stomach of it all; dust to dust. Little by little the sand and corn take everything and buries it inside, never to be released.
Through those migrating fields, green, tall, serrated blades of bitter tasting leaves grow sharp enough to cut through skin, leaving a line of blood in the crease of your mouth to sweeten the taste. Neglectfully, the plant has relentless weed control. Nothing could grow in soil it changed, except fuelcorn. Dry storms of seed and earth, day by day appear, grow to maturity, to seed, then move on leaving a dry lifeless field of dirt, brown dirt.
They’re seen down there sometimes, down there in the street, leaning against the wall, or scratching some symbolic statement in the concrete, wanting to get in. They have their moments in the night. Screams echo through the starless, tawny sky, then it’s quiet, except for the cooing that comes with each moment of alleviation, unless it was unwanted, then it’s crying through the night that’s heard; stones skipping inside the verbal, hollow reverberations, bouncing off the wall and street, escaping into an empty decrescendo into the sky. Down there they’ve eaten the corn, drank the mash, they even wear cloth made from the silk. It hurts them, but there is nothing else, unless you’re in here looking out at them in the street. They are tumorous and dying; living long lives of dying each day. Not that there’s hunger, most are bulging at the waist, living to be over a hundred years old. They are the ones, the old ones, who’ve seen the days before the fuelcorn. Faces that seem to have some hope are smiling their toothless smiles as they pass by. No one stays around for too long. They keep moving, searching for a way, or a place that hasn’t been changed by the fuelcorn. There is no place to go, it’s all dead, dry, lifeless dirt.
Huddled around blue flames, with determined voices, intelligent concepts that haven’t found a civilized solution are reasoned and sometimes preached into the dim mornings.
His window’s view is of the Affirmation, bleached by concrete and oppressive sunshine and wind carrying sand and seeds, blotted by drought, but still producing stalks of corn, only corn. Standing in view of the machine and the walls of the Affirmation, he watches and waits; watches everything, everything, the days of heat and grinding wind, hours of breeding cornstalks, moments of succulent fruit born by the corn; people made of the corn, sterilized from the corn. He waits for her.
People gather the fruit to feed the great machine; thumping, pounding all day, everyday. They fill carts, or shoulder a load and drag them to the opened waiting mouth. The infirmed carry as many individual stalks as they can. Filling lives to waste, the corn grows, taking unborn lives by its sterilizing fruit, alcohol and unmanageable virulence. It lives on nothing, grows from nothing and goes to fruit eagerly. The machine is the same; eating, feeding on the fruit, the corn. The corn could not be controlled, as the Affirmation thought it could and began to pour out of its concrete contained fields, growing right through the ten foot high walls, or growing on and around them. When it broke free of its constraints, it freely spread everywhere, everywhere is corn. The machine consumes every field and available stalk growing on everything, including paved lots and roadways no longer maintained. They’ve been turned to gravel, cracked and broken like the rest of the Earth. Buildings are covered in cornstalks as easily as bare ground. Seeds caught in the wind are speared into everything, including skin. If it wasn’t removed, the stalk would sprout, eat the flesh to grow and bear fruit. Stay covered, stay indoors, find shelter of any kind, but don’t let the seeds dig in. People scatter before a storm, knowing somehow when it’s coming. They hide, dig in, break locks to get indoors. If they’re lucky, they can find, or barter for material to build a shelter, but not within the walls of the Affirmation. They’re allowed inside the walls to feed the machine, only to feed the machine and then they leave or pay the price doled out by the Affirmation’s microdrones. Storms, they come up quick and last sometimes for days. Black clouds of genetically modified corn seeds, tassels, silk, dried stalks, sand, everything that’s not tied down, or can be weighted enough to withstand one hundred mile per hour winds will be destroyed, grown into, made to be fuel for the Affirmation and its great machine.
Machinery and smokestacks, and the rhythm of it all rubs up against the wind. It’s carried across the dry land into the sky. Somehow, no one notices the thumping through the air, or maybe they’ve forgotten to hear it, but it smells of corn.
The machine, the machine, the great machine; the source of energy saving the people. The Affirmation built the one hundred and ten horsepower machine to produce electricity for the Affirmation, constantly; pounding constantly, without rest, beating, breathing, producing constant power. Then, they built another, and another, and another machine combined together as one great machine to fuel the Affirmation; to give the people work and food, shelter, lives to be lived and enjoyed beyond their parents’ lives, beyond any past lifetime. The great machine is the source of life to everyone. Life for anyone outside the wall, however, is drudgery.
“Where is she?”
“Where are you, show me.”
From the drone he can see the faces of all the men and women in line with their day’s production of corn. Huddled, plain, dirty, beaten by labor and disease, infected, swollen and still able, they stand, waiting to feed the machine.
He watches the people passing his view; not her, not her, not her, not her. One after the other, all the same, sickly and slow, oppressed. The drone flipped photographs as fast as he could watch. She was nowhere. Where…
Through the window, in the distance beyond the wall, he watched a cloud of dust form into a conical mass. The sky became reddish-brown, angry, tormented by thunderous lightning. Dry, rainless, heaving clouds spinoff in bursts from the core of the storm. Breathing, specks of fine black particles escape the center in huffs. Throbbing, breath after wheezing breath, he could see the cloud of seeds being sprayed to the ground. Darting, pounding into the dry powdered soil, the seeds freckled the landscape, spurred into the soil like ticks finding a living vein full of blood and suckling life, getting swollen with its liberty.
People down there, down in the broken concrete, beyond the walls of the Affirmation, were already indoors by the time he saw the storm coming. They hid in shelters made by stacking anything they could find and leaning it, or fastening it to the outside of the wall in any way they could. The lucky ones had the strength to carry enough corn to the machine that they could barter for concrete and carry it back to build shelter. Most built porous walls made of loose rocks stacked upon the ground. During the storms, the dust filled the shelter, but slowly enough that they survived without too much worry, though they spent hours after the storm digging themselves out. Some dug holes in the ground deep enough to sit in, cover themselves with sheets of corn silk fabric. They leaked, though somehow people managed to escape the storms, most of the time. The fabric roofs sometimes blew away; a sure painful death from the irascible wind. In a matter of moments the seething desiccation will remove the flesh from the bone, leave you standing until it’s finished devouring you, leaving nothing but the dust of your bones to be seen carried off in its continuation. From his window, he’s watched people being eroded into wind. He doesn’t feel it anymore. There’s nothing he can do.
He watched these storms appear and disappear, leaving budding cornstalks behind. Some of the stalks grew from people who had fallen unconscious. The stalk rooted in seconds and filled the body with sprouts and stems in minutes.
At night the storms flash in the distance, lighting the street outside the wall below his window. People gather at the clear-blue flames made by ethanol fires.
“Freedom, freedom, remember what that was? Remember how we had freedom? When we grew the corn, we lost our freedom. Look what the corn demands of us; our lives, it takes our lives from us. We work for the corn, we eat the corn, wear the corn, smoke the corn, drink the corn and it takes our future, our freedom. We have no children. We have chincha to make us sick. We have disease. Freedom, we want freedom from this corn; freedom from the fuel, freedom.”
Through the softened haze of the sandblasted window, he could see the woman in the blue flame ranting about the fuelcorn, waving her arms as people gathered; gathering to hear something from somewhere there is no corn; there is nowhere.
When the sky suddenly turned black, funneling sand from miles up, down to the very spot this gaslight preacher was standing, everyone darted into some hidden corner, or under something that could capture enough air to keep breath in their lungs for the duration of the black mass stomping across the Affirmation. She, alone, stood raging at the storm, defying the misery it makes, the lifeless-living it provides, the extinction, the extinction, the extinction. She hung on the thought of the word, like it was going to change in her mind; become another thought, a precursor to another word, or phrase that could enlighten the gathering and herself, striking herself against some flint of a new beginning, some new hope of a world where she and the others could carry on a new life, a new child, a child free of the corn’s diseases. She stood against it; words against the storm. Tireless meanings, paper mountains, logic, intuition and feelings thrown in heaps, in miles, in mass like spit at the barrel of a gun; at an unyielding onslaught of particulate matter hanging together in full flight on the slightest wind, the quietist breath of thought, forming a solid, unchangeable destructive evil. Each tiny particle taking its share of whatever it encounters; a tiny bit of flesh, hardly noticed until it’s red and raw, bleeding and tumorous, killing. Maybe leaving you suffering, standing without life, if that’s your luck. Don’t think, don’t talk, don’t run; give them what they want and hope they can’t use it, or at least hope they can’t use it against you.
Some gaslight preachers have given up eating the corn with the hope that they can get free of its effects before it starves them; to breed. They give themselves to any man that can provide the ejaculate to form life inside them. Once the child is growing, they eat with the hope the corn doesn’t kill the child before it’s born. They get skinny, very skinny. They have men all night; all men, any man. They all smell like the corn, one after the other lined up into the darkness. Giving themselves to the hope of a child; it’s mechanical, loveless, sexless, thoughtful, necessary. They always starve to death, or the storms wash what little remains of their flesh into the air, or the Affirmation’s microdrones fill their heads, rearrange their minds, get them right, take their moisture before they die.
They chance their preaching nightly, down there in the hollow, concrete street, to a prayer that will resonate through the sand, wind, seeds, corn, alcohol and disease, climb to the highest, the most, the deepest, the least, the farthest, as if the echo of her tiny voice will challenge the mountain to move itself from the lives and ambitions of her and the ones she chooses; a peep that barrels down the alleyway into a new and brighter place, a place without and with it all. Freedom from the corn, freedom of abuse, from designed challenges of being alive and dead at the same time. That voice, her voice, alone, alone, echoing from nothing, expanding in dimension by voluminal exponentiation, squelching the sand’s first tingling touch, winning against the first puncture, blister, droplet of blood, overpowering the blasphemy for the bare moment of freedom against a profanity great enough to quell the fire, knock her to the ground and fill her lungs with particles the size of smoke, until it chokes her very last word, unheard. In a matter of moments, the buds of corn grew from her body. Without hesitation, stalks stretched themselves, squeaking as they moved toward the sky, feeding on her, growing from her lost life. Flowering, bearing fruit dripping with ethanol, it goes to seed; done, drying into more dust for the storms to eviscerate some other. The corn lives its existence in an hour and moves on.
Always, the wind snuffs out the cries for freedom. The seeds hush into every craw, bin and drawer, building, street and avenue created and populated. The fuelcorn dripped slowly, accumulated quickly and was used by everyone.
“Drone; where is she?”
Yea, yea, always searching. Where could she have gone? She has to be down there somewhere; where else could she go? Standing in the window, hoping to see her, he holds a cup of coffee, too hot to drink, looking over the mass of people covered in brown, corn silk clothing. Hooded, hiding whatever tumor that had grown on their body, hoping it will just discharge and heal. But, then they have to wait for whatever grows on them after that; maybe it will be the one to kill them. Maybe one had grown and killed her. Maybe that’s why she’s nowhere to be seen.
His coffee; he held on to it, staring out the window, hoping to see her with all the people. While all the faces looking at the ground that had been groomed by the sweepers cutting cornstalks, smoothed by foot traffic; while the hooded mass of people, clambering with carts and bundles of cornstalks, trudged the road to the machine, he stood in quiet calm looking for one face to show itself, a face he knew he would recognize. She’s got to be there.
Under the cornstalks loading her down, walking among the rest of the people outside the Affirmation, she, for some reason, looked at the filmy window above, thinking she saw him; his eyes, looking at her. She remembered him without wonder of who he might be now, or with any want, without feeling. She just remembered him as he was in the Affirmation, though; she thought something just at the moment. She thought that there was nothing to really think about him, but an inkling drew her to think of going to him, to his door and going in to see him.
The Affirmation selected us to be together. I know they put us together. Why else would we have been sent to codify? It has to be true; they must know that we should be together. But why would she ignore that? Why would she defy the life we’re supposed to create? They’re all the same in this place; dry and lifeless, hollow-eyed scabs ridden with disease. Up here we could have a life, make a life. She must have eaten the corn. All this time away, she had to have eaten it. Can’t blame her, I might have eaten it too. Maybe I should be there with her; at least we’d be together surviving on corn.
She stood in the procession in the street, looking up, and she stood at his door. She stood at his front door. She stood in the street, looking up. She stood with not just a thought, but an emotion heavy with the memory of when she was walking under her brown hood, now, hunched over by the load of cornstalks she is carrying; marching in line with the others doing the morning’s work feeding the machine. She looked up at his window and thought she saw him standing, looking down at her, just at her, right into her eyes, aware that it was her. She hadn’t thought of him thinking of her until now.
His front door opened without effort. She let it swing wide, opening the entire room to her. He was standing, still, like a well-lit shadow, blurred, but defined. He didn’t move from that spot in front of the window. All she could think of was his eyes, his face, his eyes staring right at her. Even though she was right behind him, she was also right in front of him, like a memory she had detached from, becoming lucid, walking around herself and everyone and everything around her. Not seeing herself, but being herself, she was inside a lucid memory, a sort of de’ja’vu she could control; her memory locked in his memory. She started to believe that she had a bug in her head, a microdrone that somehow got in without her knowing and it was giving her thoughts. She stood in the street, looking up.
She walked around him like a ghost, watching him, touching him without a response from him. She could feel things as they were; a cup of hot coffee in his hand, steam floating effortlessly into the air. It’s real time; it’s now, she thought, but now as it was then, now in memory. She traveled from herself at the point of seeing his eyes, to this point, remaining in this point in time, now, behind his eyes, behind him, around him.
He stared through the window, held his coffee in one hand and stuffed the other warm hand into his pocket and focused back to view the procession of morning work being done to feed the machine. A bright memory of her standing in front of him on the silver line with all the others in the Affirmation flooded him. She was there in front of him, turned to look at him, smiled and twisted back to face front, her ponytail swayed back and forth as she did; the yellow ribbon tied in a bow. He smiled, surprised that she was actually there. He was actually there and reached out to touch her; touch the silken strands of hair, smooth warm and soft. But, she didn’t respond to him. Stepping out of line, he turned to see her still smiling, looking straight ahead like the rest. “Hey, hey;” waving at her got no response. When the line began to move, leaving a space where he had been, no one saw him standing outside the line.
Pulling his hand from his pocket, he looked at his sweating palm, then outside at the unchanged procession in labor feeding the machine. His coffee was still hot.
“Drone, go search the wall.”
What was that; real, was it real? He closed his eyes and thought of her again, but he didn’t see her like he did before. He could remember her, but couldn’t be there like he just had been, or thought he had been. How did…
Bleach-white, huge, empty, hollow and echoless, when the doors slowly opened, nitpicked by a swarm of searching, sterilizing microdrones, she walked across the prolongation to the great mouth of the machine; thumping, pounding rhythmically under her feet. She flipped her load over her shoulder and watched the bundle of stalks slide down into the bubbling, brown, churning sour mash being digested by the machine. Pungent; she could taste the alcohol in the air irritating her eyes and nose. Standing just for a second to watch the great mouth chew its cud, she began to feel a little woozy from the fumes, from the breathing mechanism. In the white vastness, drones made the air grey with its fuzzy mass. Like smoke, they moved to imbibe every molecule of corn that happened to drop to the impenetrable, hygienic floor and expel their matter into the machine, hover and wait for the next load.
She shielded her face and covered her head. The Affirmation doors opened by themselves, leading her out. Drones hovered near to make sure no one stayed inside the Affirmation’s walls. She could see a storm’s dark mass spiraling in the sky in the distance. When she looked back through the closing doors, everyone had scattered from the line to the entrance of the machine, left their loads and went for cover. Their bundles would have to be fought for, when they get back. They’ll kill each other. People get reprogrammed for killing each other. Microdrones have embedded most people’s heads, anyway. Within the Affirmation’s walls, thoughts of anyone whose head is not right with the Affirmation will be redesigned by the drones, without them knowing anything about it. Outside, you’re fair game.
Loud and hissing, the storm was getting close. By tomorrow, she thought, the storm will have brought seeds enough to cover the field in front of the Affirmation and corn will be growing waist high by mid-afternoon. If she didn’t start running, she would be buried by the storm and corn will be growing from her spent body. To her left was wall as far as she could see.
With her hood off, jacket half-unzipped, she was gaining ground between the Affirmation’s marble stairs and home, running. She put them down one after the other as fast as she could, never running any further from the wall than she could reach. The storm was all around her. Hearing the wind and seeing its debris getting ahead, seeds speckling the dirt in front of her, she knew the storm was right above her and it was about to get thick. Large, dark cloudbursts dusted-up, falling in plumes. Digging in and running hard, putting her hip to the ground, spikes up, she slid into a small indentation at the bottom of the wall, caught herself with her feet against an iron plate and curled into a sitting position inside an enclosure. Through a humming, bursting cloud, followed by a sifting hush as it fell back to the ground, then another further off, a distant burst above her, she could hear the storm of seeds, dirt and ash shattering against the stone close above. Kicking a wrought iron bar sticking out a couple of inches from the wall, a large concrete block tripped and closed her inside the hollow of the wall. Breathing hard, laying on her back in the dark, quiet, she heard no more of the storm.
Closing her eyes, relaxing, her breathing slower and steady, she saw him. He was standing right in front of her inside the codification area in the Affirmation. They were together, standing nude in front of each other. His eyes in her eyes; she shyly looked away, then back, putting her hand on his chest to feel his warmth. She was there, again; should she speak. She began to think to tell him that it was her; I’m here, it’s me. But she was unable to get the words to start, nothing would happen. She felt worried and embarrassed at the same time, just like she did when this first happened, when she was there in front of him the first time this happened. How could this be happening again? She looked at his body, as the instructions were blurted from the Affirmation. They were followed just like they were the first time; nothing changed. It was happening, again. She took a sharp breath as his warm fluid filled her. Surprisingly, a different sensation was there; excitement. They both opened their eyes to see each other.
She opened her eyes in the dark, in the wall, thinking she had fallen asleep, though not, she knew she had not fallen asleep. She had been there, again. She had been with him, again. Why there; I haven’t thought of that day with such sensation…ever…not even then. Why now; was I really there again? Why is this happening; a drone.
As she got to her feet in the dark, searching her mind for something that would explain the throe back into the Affirmation and him, putting her hand on the wall, feeling her way along the dark passage, she stepped on the iron grate leading to her tunnel. Walking a little farther, to the end of the passage, she felt the iron bar to open the door to the other side of the Affirmation; the inside of the Affirmation. The stone lifted slightly and she sat looking from inside the wall, looking at the Affirmation; dull and grey, with patches of foggy glass. The storm had subsided. She didn’t know how long she had been asleep, or with him in the well-lit room inside the Affirmation. She sat there all curled up for the longest time before she opened the door to her tunnel.
Covered with an iron grate, a storm drain with wrought iron poking out of the concrete was used as the ladder down the shaft; dark, cool, an echo chamber announcing anything descending into the room below. She eased down the rusted, iron ladder to the landing. Easily standing within the six-foot inside diameter of the pipe, she walked the fifty feet, or so, to the entrance.
An old valve handle spun freely until it clanked to a stop. She positioned herself and threw her weight to pull hard at the hatch door. Banging to the end of its hinge, she sat on the rim, thrusted herself inward, landed, turned, stepped on a wrought iron rung and closed herself into the tunnel, spinning the handle-wheel to seal the hatch from the inside.
She flips a switch and the room, walled with riveted iron plates, the ceiling is half of another grey concrete pipe, arching across the room, turns from total darkness and brightly fills with her things; hardwood flooring, an old oriental rug, solid oak bookshelves lining one entire wall, with books all over them; home sweet home.
One tassel on the corner of her rug is missing from pulling the carpet’s corner away from her trapdoor. There’s an iron ring recessed into the wooden door. The hinges are smooth and even with the surface. When the rug covers it, there is no discerning characteristic seen of the door. Only the hollow sound heard when stomped on, could anyone tell it was there. She knew it was there, she built the thing; board by board found by tunneling under the Affirmation, or anywhere she could barter or steal a chunk of such a scarce substance. With small, calloused, strong hands, she fastened each shard together like puzzle pieces fitting exactly together. With an ethanol fired furnace, blacksmithing what iron she had, the hinges and pins, nails tools, everything she needed, she made accurately, skillfully, beautifully. She built the lab. She built the lab where her daughter spends all of her time sitting above a microscope, or a cornstalk, or anything she can genetically decipher. Her daughter, her nine year-old daughter is beautiful and looks exactly like her. Though all the years digging after leaving the Affirmation, her body has changed to withstand the brutal compounding business of digging and moving earth, unlike her daughter, who is slight, coordinated, very very smart and dedicated to the study of corn. She taught her daughter what she knew, but now, her daughter teaches her everyday, everyday there is something new.
Propped against the wall next to the door in the floor, her shovel dropped to the hardwood, making her bend to pick it up. Her back had hunched since the days standing in line, going to the codification area, living in the Affirmation. She’s so much stronger, now.
It’s not so much the actual digging, it’s the carrying bag after bag of earth from down to up. Forty, or fifty bags a day that weigh fifty pounds each, she carries on an easy day. The incline feels a little more shallow on the way down than it is going up, but still. When she gets to a depth, with enough length to the tunnel where she can lay track, the cart runs all night, sometimes; shovel after shovel, fill the cart, flip a switch and get it to the surface.
The surface work is just as tough; corn grows in moments on every load she has to distribute. She made a corn-cutter on the front of her cart, like a cowcatcher on a train to clear the corn stalks that grow covering her tracks. Mounds of dirt dot the tracks from her tunnels like monstrous anthills with corn stalks growing from them. She dumps load after load, lays more track, dumps more dirt, day after day, sealing her tunnels tightly, filtering the air pumped in. And, on some odd days, she makes herself known to the Affirmation’s drones by dumping a load of cornstalks into the great machine with the rest of them up there.
“Where are you, show me.”
The screen flashed the image seen directly in front of the lead drone. Black and red automatic sweepers, out to clean within the walls of the Affirmation by cutting any stalks, vacuuming any seeds, and to assist the drones, are stopped in front of the Affirmation’s storage with lights flashing.
A man in his fifties, red-eyed, unshaven, bulky around the middle, was standing inside a cloud of microdrones being bombarded with questions he couldn’t seem to answer intelligibly. Barely able to breathe the man started waving his arms in panic, trying to get rid of the cloud. Finally catching breath enough to adamantly explain that he was just very tired and couldn’t get out. He had no place to sleep after gate closing. “It’s not my fault; I didn’t do anything.”
Dirt-colored, fine particulate matter, the cloud encapsulated him, entered his body, relieved him of his senses as he stood on the pavement, then left his body. Before he could buckle his knees to hit the ground, the cloud had every detail of thought and action the man had accumulated all his life loaded in the Affirmation’s memory. The Affirmation’s cloud reentered the man, catching him from falling, and played his life like a video on his screen, as he stood in the window, watching from the Affirmation. Quickly, the cloud got to the part where the man fell asleep in the doorway. It was obvious that the man had been weakened to the point of exhaustion by his labor. He had stolen nothing, showed no sign of over indulging in alcohol and was as healthy as any other person living outside the Affirmation’s walls; as sterile from eating the corn.
Implanted in the man’s head by the Affirmation’s cloud, was an acceptance of his guilt, along with the standard deadly disease causing gene sequence, triggered to grow if he panics, or defies the Affirmation. Before the cloud left the man’s body and mind, they stimulated a feeling of being satiated to the point of elation and an eagerness to pay a fine at the gate with his morning’s accrual. Once outside the Affirmation’s walls, the man didn’t remember ever being prosecuted by the Affirmation. He won’t remember the cloud rising from the brown, dry earth under him and filling his entire body, extracting every thought he ever had, and flushing the entire dump right back in, along with whatever social disorder the Affirmation wanted to make the man subject to. He won’t remember any of it.
Cloudy from the storms blasting the outside of the glass, the clean, shining, smooth surface inside, enhanced his reflection standing over, watching the flashing lights on the microdrones and sweepers moving across the Affirmation in pursuit of another rumble in the distance below; flashing, mad storms shrieking just beyond the wall.
Both were old, drunken men who refused to leave the Affirmation. Yelling obscenities at the Affirmation’s dronecloud, staggering through the dark streets, disgorging themselves and splashing their great gourds of chincha they had smuggled in. Shouting into the night, they held onto each other like brothers, giddily laughing while the cloud imbued them, stiffening them straight and leaving their bodies like exhaling steam from a sweating body in the cold. Heavily bearded, stinking from more than a day’s labor still growing on their skin, both men began marching like children playing soldier toward the front gate. The buzzing cloud of microdrones opened the gate slightly for the two of them to semi-consciously scrape their buttons squeezing through. Still marching, silent and stiff, they marched out of sight into the ten-foot high cornrows. Being cut by the fibrous leaf blades, aimlessly they stomped without a thought or sound given to the storm surrounding them and abrading the hair from their faces and the stink from every layer of skin, until the human being was expulsed into air. The gate slammed shut; good riddance.
“Search the wall.”
The drone took a direct route to the ten-foot high, concrete wall, seeing nothing along the way. One side of the drone’s view was concrete, with the stubble of corn stalks that had been cut by the sweeping machines. The other side was the row of windows, rooms, dark corners of the Affirmation at night; hot, dry, covered in dirt, scarred from the storms, bare, thin, hazy, soft. There was not a crisp corner anywhere. Everything had been withered from the constant sandblasting. Glass, if still there at all, was fogged and opaque. There were no people allowed to be seen by the microdrones outside at night; no couples on their way to a show, or dinner, no women dressed finely, in sheer silk dresses, perfume on their skin where only one who was invited to get that close could smell. The place was clean for the night; everyone who entered early in the day had gone back to where they could collect corn in the blue-inkling of morning, if the storms didn’t kill them in the dark.
She was nowhere.