Open Boxes – Part Three
Read Part One and maybe Part Two first.
A skein of scarlet splayed across the sky, it drips, incandescently glowing, a ghostly shadow of failure hovering behind it, heightening the brightness, the force of expulsion, its slowly diminishing spout into the void. And then nothing, other than the fading ghost, a memory of loss, of pain, fading away. All that is left is the darkness. And then a haze of grey that infects the pitch, drawing fresh veins of monotony, life, endlessly repeating, tossed against the universe, never to stick, to always fall back into dissolution and chaos. What life thrives always dies. Its resurgence in subsequent generations of strife and struggle all fall, sequentially. That it persists in rising again and again does nothing for those that have fallen. The future means nothing to the fallen. How could it when its very existence is evidence of their mortality and failure? The survivors are at best usurpers, at worst murderers, or parasites, sucking at the dry and tortured breast of their predecessors. And so the universe goes on. Rising, twisting, suffering and falling, replaced by those neither better, nor worse, simply the next. What possible value could such existence have, rising, falling, crashing and smashing against the rocks of futility, their spume and foam tossed back and lost in the vast unknowable mass that overwhelms the triviality of their flickered lives… Life hovers pathetically against the vast austerity of nothingness, a mote crushed by the enormity of the nothing which dispassionately overwhelms the something, the anything. It looms.
Screaming, I awoke.
The world was black and filled with a sucking scream; all of life run backwards and dragged pitifully out of an airlock. All I could do was scream and strive for movement. Nothing happened. Locked in, lacking extension. I existed solely in an empty space filled with panic and fear. Everything was wrong – everything. The sense of emergency was implanted deep in my psyche. Action was demanded. Dimly a sense of my arms and legs – of a me – and of the other – emerged, and I seized it will all that I had, which was little enough. The first sensation I recall is that of my knuckles straining as I tried to feel my palm with my fingertips. Strange that the first feeling is of overuse, of stretching too far, as if the effort to feel life is extraordinary and beyond what should be expected of me. If this is too much, then what hope is there for more? Surely existence is more natural than this striving? Perhaps life is struggle, only by fighting can sensation be achieved, carved out of the bleak void that predates and succeeds us. Once I could touch my palms, full sensation arrived. A scream through all of me, touched off in the palm and streaking through arms, back, legs, head and finally tortuously, raggedly describing my face and digging deep within. The screaming did not end quickly.
With my newfound senses of touch, sound and sight I had my first touch of the world I had screamed my way into. A pounding from all sides, hammered over and over, my bright new senses relentlessly battered by cruel revolutions, jolts, sliding, falling, twisting, slamming and then the slow heavy slide of mass, driving me deeper and deeper beneath the pelting sensations. And then, finally, blissfully, nothing. As if suddenly my brief extension into the void was revoked. The barrage of sound replaced by silence, the juddering movement by a stillness which hung, breathless, for a beat – and another – and another. I persisted. Feeling had not left me, but the violent exterior had, for a moment or two, deigned to leave me in peace. A peace without hope, or understanding. My world was still nothing but empty blackness, my hands pressed against a boundary mere inches around me. Was this the universe? A narrow pocket of sensation, subject to unknown brutality? I hoped not.
I don’t know how long I waited in that space between life and death. Eventually there was a further heart-shaking thunder and I was smashed up and then down in my tiny pocket of the world. Light falteringly blossomed around me, too bright against my void-tempered eyes. With light came a certain calm. My world was a chrysalis of metal, glass and plastic. Horribly cracked and dented, for sure, but still there. And beyond, a confused broken jumble of shaded shapes pressed against the glass. There was motion, a tumbling of shapes, and then a shape I knew, a hand like my own swept a palmful of debris aside and I could see a streak of outside. The outside had a face.
For some hours I waited, torn between patience, impatience and fear as the patches of darkness above me were replaced by light. I watched the hands and arms, so like mine, scrabble, lift and toss away those things that weighed down upon my portion of the world. Finally, it was done. I looked up and above me was a mirror of myself, as best as I could tell from my limited vantage and what little I could infer from the dark reflection I’d seen while I was unearthed. Outstretched palms above my face, gently motioning downwards. I was calmed, not really understanding that I had needed to be calmed. I brought back my fists from their pounding on the glass above my face, pressed them together, felt once more the tautness of my knuckles; my proof of existence. The hatch above me released its aching hold, hissing and sliding up and over me, jerking a little as it caught its distressed arms against the rubble it nested in. Hands reached in, taking mine, pulling me up.
The touch of another was electric, galvanised my sense of self and of the real. I launched myself forth, up and out of my casket before I knew what I was doing, before I knew that my legs, back and arms could do that. It felt like something I had forgotten, holding another’s hands, being outside that box. We stood for what felt like forever, me standing in my bed, clasping forearms with my liberator, my life-bringer. The idea of tears cascaded through my mind, bringing a shuddering burr to my chest and a rattle to my arms and legs. Fingers lay gentle on my arms. A tender pressure, affirming our shared existence; we made each other real. Finally, their hand fell into mine, we tensed arms and I was pulled out of my hole into the world.
The world I found myself in was a twisted wreckage. Upside down, torn and battered. My rescuer had dug a pit to excavate me. I saw another box, just like mine, popped open, standing almost upright as if it had been stabbed into the mess around us. We were the same; separated only by the discrete shapes of our bodies. Two units of reality drawn snapping together across the emptiness. We didn’t speak – it seems absurd now – we turned immediately to practical matters. I recognised the space we were in, though I felt certain I’d never seen it before – a flat, wrongly angled surface above our heads, dangling tangles of cabling, panels and furniture. It was familiar, if terribly wrong. That sense of wrongness translated into an alertness I’d not previously felt. I found myself dimly aware of a hollow screeching, tugging the lightest and most ephemeral of materials into the air in a subtle funnel, vanishing through cracks in the ceiling/floor and walls. Instinct took me over, I stepped across the shifting ground, sought out lockers and cabinets I’d never previously considered, or even recognised when I looked around me – but I knew what they were and what they ought to contain.
We sealed the whistling holes, jammed closed the gaping doors. The rushing sounds reduced to a bare whisper, and we took stock. For all that I felt myself, I felt possessed of actions I had not planned. But I felt safer. The diamond shaped ports in the walls showed us a violent swirl of activity, a fog rushing past that vanished into the darkness as quickly as it became apparent. Some deeper growl of motion reverberated through the ground and the air – a settling, shifting into compliance of our space. In the quiet that followed, every subtle slide of debris was audible and felt through our feet. We had reached some kind of equilibrium.
From the ceiling, or floor as it clearly was, depended thick black hoses. One was ripped in half, teasingly close to its other half which sprouted sadly from my rescuer’s box across the room. Another joined to my case, stretched tight but somehow unbroken. Further ribbed spars stabbed into the rubble beneath us – two unbroken but snarled in clusters of broken machinery – another bent double on itself, its pod still clinging to our (now) roof, broken open. From it dangled arms, a body, a head. A shaft of dull steel had passed through both the box and the body, posing it in an expression of surprise. It looked like me. Like us. It didn’t move, didn’t even tremble. A thick fluid leaked from its chest, a solid thread joining it to the ground and vanishing into the gaps. We paid it no further attention.
We dug with intent, purpose and intensity. Somewhere below the mass of shattered instruments, foam padding, unrecognisable components, beams and endless tangled netting lay our fellows. Tirelessly we hauled out junk, propped and protected our lines of egress. Preserved those thick lines drawn tightly down from above. My companion’s pod must have snapped open as its tether tore, ejecting them rudely into the world. I could hardly complain or lament their entry to awareness as without them I would presumably have remained lost in my tiny night. But these two, like me, were unbroken, if buried in a slipshod landslide of sharp, hard-edged violence. We prevailed. Two more severely cracked but intact containers, holding selves just like us, alert, frightened, but there. We were four. We were together. It was all that we had.