Chapter 1

Chapter 1

Table of Contents

The first time someone knocks from the other side, you look up. It’s the natural reaction, one that your grandmother before you and her grandmother before her have gotten from her grandmother who came way before them, so they can survive. Looking in the direction of a sound: a simple way to make sure you see your enemy, who might bludgeon you to death to take what’s rightfully yours. Then you can fight, flight, freeze—whichever you prefer or are capable of doing. Simple.

But this was no natural situation. From here, I couldn’t take flight. From here, we couldn’t fight. I could freeze, sure. But there was no reason to, because no one could bludgeon me to death. I was very aware of that. I’d made myself be aware of that over many months, so that when someone knocked from the other side, I didn’t look up.

I’d thought I’d mastered this bitter trick. I watered the sweet little solitary yellow flower while the person kept knocking on the glass to get my attention. “The person,” because I resolutely refused to notice whether they were male, female, old, or young.

Here was how you did it. You looked down. Concentrated on the delicate oblong petals. Watched how, even when you aimed the narrow, quite precise stream of water right at the root of the flower, some of the water bounced off the arid ground. It behaved like extremely dry skin. You could put all the best moisturizing creams you wanted, it would still hurt and refuse to absorb most of the good ingredients, because it wasn’t functioning as it should. Such skin was broken. So was this ground. With its cracks so deep I couldn’t see the bottom, sometimes it just spat the water droplets right back out instead of letting them seep in.

Anyway, you looked down and watched the water and the flower. Admired the beautifully elegant curve of your copper watering can. Wondered that, had you been more interested in flowers and plants in general before the world came to this, if there would’ve been more little yellow flowers on this side, so this one here wouldn’t look so lonely. Or perhaps the seed of this particular yellow flower would’ve miraculously sensed that you were blessed with a green thumb, and would’ve grown closer to the home dome instead of the edge of the outer dome. In that case, since the home dome and outer dome were concentric, I could’ve stayed away from the madman (damn it, now I knew he was a man, I could see he was wearing running shoes as huge as boats, his ankles hairy) as far as physically possible. Then he might not have spotted me and then I wouldn’t have had to try so hard to keep looking down, concentrating on the stream of fresh, pleasantly cool water, landing at the root of the little yellow flower, to sometimes be absorbed and most of the time to bounce off.

He had to be a madman. Otherwise, why was he still knocking like crazy on the glass of the outer dome? They say a person who keeps doing the same thing over and over again, expecting a different result, is mad. By now, the knocking had become more than a sound: it traveled from his side to my side in the form of a dull prickling that made the hair on my bare arms stand on end. Sound and its waves—they knew no barriers. Even a shield as strong as the outer dome couldn’t fully block them out when someone hit it directly. Even this extra-fortified glass had to react to its surroundings. It, unlike me, couldn’t resolutely opt for ignorance.

“Water!” said the madman.

His voice sounded muffled. If it hadn’t been so obvious that he would utter that word, I might not have understood it.

“Please! We need more!”

Also obvious words.

Oh, how glad I was that Timothy had had the good sense to build these domes! About a year ago—eons ago—everyone told him he was crazy. A fortified glass dome in the middle of the desert! The size of a baseball stadium, too! And another littler dome inside, that one not transparent but black for privacy and for double protection! Protection from what? What a waste of resources. Crazy billionaire engineer. Thinks he’s the real Iron Man or something, when in reality, he’s just a paranoid doomsday advocate.

For the record, the outer dome was only as large as the actual field part of a baseball stadium—so, not including the seats.

Also, well, surprise, surprise. This was the reality. Most of the naysayers had all died. And I was here, in this glorious haven, where the strongest of the cruel sun’s rays got filtered and softened by Timothy’s special glass. No matter where the sun was, it never hurt my eyes. The air here, though dry and always rough in my nostrils, wasn’t nearly as dry and rough as the air outside. Or so I imagined. I’d never had to check first-hand. But in the beginning, before I’d mastered my bitter trick, I’d made the mistake of looking up. Multiple times. The skin condition of those outside told me that no moisturizing cream could fix them. Ever.

While the world outside roasted in Eternal Summer, hotter but more cold-blooded than any other summer ever witnessed in human history, I was watering a little yellow flower whose name I didn’t know. Our massive air conditioners circulated the air inside the outer dome. Less massive air conditioners circulated the air inside the home dome. I could wear a tank top, braless, showing my bare arms, because I didn’t need to worry about keeping the little moisture that I had inside my body. Truly, what I was doing by showing up here in my shorts and flip-flops was flaunting my luxury.

Why? I don’t know. Some of it was wanting to give those people out there a chance to yell at me, the way the madman was doing now. They always did, so I assumed they didn’t hate it. We all needed something to do, some kind of a routine that marked the day’s arrival and passing. The watering of the little yellow flower was a special event that served that function. That was why I, too, acted like a madperson by coming here every day, overcoming the fear that one day, I might run out of water and regret ever having watered the little yellow flower. A weird sense of obligation had formed inside me—to the flower and to those people.

Why did they keep approaching me? Why didn’t they hate me? I deserved their hatred. Whether massive or not, the air conditioners in the domes all released scorching steam into the atmosphere outside. But I was inside and look, obviously I didn’t care.

My reluctance, no, unwillingness to help should have been obvious. What was inside trumped all that was outside—the little yellow flower, for example, which never would’ve bloomed had it not been for Timothy’s foresight. We were inside, while a madman in boat-sized running shoes knocked from the other side, mad because he hadn’t seen water for days, possibly weeks. If I were to look up now, I could probably determine whether it was days or weeks. But I didn’t. This wasn’t nature. It was pointless. I wasn’t going to take flight. I wasn’t going to fight. I didn’t need to freeze. I, as an individual, had done absolutely nothing wrong. I hadn’t triggered Eternal Summer.

The narrow stream of water ceased to come out of my pretty copper watering can. Briefly, the madman’s knocking stopped. It was this sudden lack of sound and waves that made me forget about my bitter trick.

I made a mistake. I looked up.

The madman’s eyes were so grotesque, I suppressed a flinch. They were hollow. Because of that void, they looked like they could hold everything in this world. Water, massive amounts of water, whole bodies of water, ponds and rivers and lakes and oceans, if they were available. Or maybe not. Not enough room for water, because there was so much despair filling his eyes already. In that case, there was no void. In this whole wide world, so much despair was available, so there was no room for a void.

Once upon a time, those eyes may have sparkled with life. It was hard to tell his age. Maybe about the same as me, late twenties, early thirties. But when the sun shriveled you up, the young ones looked decades older all the time. And the older ones died without a chance to look even older.

Behind the madman crowded dozens more madpeople. Some sat, some lay. A few stood, in apparent solidarity with the madman. Everyone wore long-sleeved clothes. Many had thrown clothes over their heads. Those who hadn’t were going to terribly regret it later. The heat haze shimmered all around them. There was no roof. These were people who’d left the town areas, having heard about the miraculous dome in the middle of the desert. Some had given up hoping for a way back. Some among those who lay were probably already dead.

Dozens. And beyond them, hundreds.

In the first days of Eternal Summer, the horizon had been free of all obstacles except for a solitary half-built pale-brown structure of some kind. (A collapsing phone booth? a random elevator? a giant abandoned water pipe, from a time when it used to rain and large water-cleaning facilities still served the populace instead of a few of the superrich?) So, I assumed that the bumps and lumps presently visible were all human or animal. There were no plants. If there had been, this wouldn’t be called Eternal Summer. Actually, that name was euphemistic. It should’ve been called Eternal Hell, Eternal Inferno, something more dramatic like that. But in the beginning, nobody had wanted to believe it was going to be hell, inferno. Hence summer. Sort of natural.

Unnatural: the bumps and lumps. Again, I repeat, hundreds. Maybe even thousands, if you wanted to count those who lay and sat around farther away, in places I couldn’t possibly see, with or without obstacles.

A blunt thump startled me. The madman in the boat-sized running shoes had slammed his palm against the dome. I took a step back. Flight, then? Even though he couldn’t attack?

But I didn’t back away another step. The madman wasn’t looking at me. He was looking at my copper watering can. And what glimmered in his eyes wasn’t fury and hatred. It was pure thirst—without accusation, without a sense of the future or the past, without a definition of him, me, and other individuals.

Just thirst.

I turned away. I could hear his palms making squishy sounds against the glass as they helplessly glided down. Good. There was still some moisture left in his tissues. He wasn’t going to die anytime soon.

© 2022 Ithaka O.

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