by Ai Jiang
They say we are lucky. I don’t feel lucky.
I breathe onto the glass of the window in my bedroom. I have a clear view of the street on both sides. My only wish is for empty streets, but they are not.
People are walking; they drag their shoes across the concrete. Some are barefooted. I shudder, imagining the sound of plastic and rubber on the pavement because I cannot hear it. The glass is soundproof, but I wince as I witness the scraping of skin against the ground. Sometimes there is blood. Sometimes there is something else. Sometimes they smile; it is an eerie and terrifying smile. I want to look away, but I can’t. I want to run, but I can’t. I want it to stop. It doesn’t.
Don’t forget that they are human too, that they did not choose this. Don’t forget. You also did not choose this. Don’t forget. There is still hope. Is there? There is always hope.
I need air.
They say there is nothing we have to fight. We must sit and wait, but I hate sitting, and I hate waiting. How long do I have to watch?
I am sitting on the cold marble of a house made of windows. I can see everything, but they cannot see me. Sometimes when my eyes meet one of the Wandering outside, I imagine they are looking at me. They are not. They are looking at the swaying tree in front of the house. The movements of the branches should be calming, yet, it makes the Wanderings anxious.
It has been three years since we have all gone into insolation. The only reason that the Wandering is still outside is that they cannot stand to be alone. They prefer illness over solitude. They cannot remain sane with their wandering thoughts.
In a few days, it was will the start of my fourth year in this house. The government allowed us to be in contact with loved ones before, but that just made more of the Isolated step outside and join the Wandering. They had allowed us to live in pairs, sometimes more. But then people began to turn on one another for various reasons. These same reasons were why I lived alone.
I count each of my toes that peeked out from under my nightgown. I don’t remember the last time I wore everyday clothing. It is unnecessary now since nightgowns are more comfortable anyhow.
The temperature in this house does not change even when the seasons change outside. The government has made sure of this. Sometimes, I liked to feel the changes in the seasons.
During the summer, I wear extra layers so that I feel warmer, break a sweat. In the spring, I cup my hands in the sink to catch the water from the running tap and toss the droplets up in the air to mimic rainfall. In the fall, I cut pieces of paper, colour them in the different colours of leaves and scatter them on the ground, covering the cold, white marble. And in the winter, I occasionally strip myself of the nightgown and lie down on the cold marble. I close my eyes and pretend it is snow.
Of course, none of it can compare to the real weather changes happening outside. Sometimes I envy the Wandering, but when one collapses as they drag themselves across the pavement, appreciation for my solitude returns once more.
I often do not understand why they don’t contain the Wanderings. But at the same time, I wonder why the Wanderings do not go into isolation so that those of us confined may be free. I do not understand what is happening in the world, and perhaps I never will.
I remember a time when we struggled to collect resources for survival when the Wandering first appeared. Now, AI machines deliver our rations, placing packages in the delivery cube next to our front door. I saw the Wandering attack these machines even though the Wandering are also given the same rations as the Isolated. At the same time, I saw the Isolated fight one another for ration shares when we still lived in groups.
There were four of us: Mary, Chaser, Reed, and myself. The government tried placing different groups together. We were friends. Perhaps they believed that friends fare better together under these circumstances. They were wrong, of course. I knew a hiding spot in the house, and by the time it happened, I was small enough to fit inside. It was a hidden storage closet between two rooms. No one could open it only because I had locked it when we first explored the house.
Perhaps it was my initial distrust that started all of this … but I don’t think so, because I never said anything that might have given myself away. I believe this is the fault of humankind: Distrust.
Mary was the first to go. She was always faint-hearted. After the first year, we found her slumped over the toilet; her slit wrist created a puddle of bright red that her fingers were marinating in.
Reed was next. Chaser and I suspected that he was in a relationship with Mary that began at some point during our first year. Chaser also loved Mary. I will not go as far as to say that Chaser murdered Reed because I was not there at the moment of the accident. I believe they were in a heated argument which concluded with Reed’s body at the bottom of the staircase, his head at an awkward angle.
I meet Chaser’s eyes now. He is not looking at the swaying tree outside the house. He is looking at me. He knows where I always sit in front of the glass. He knows my habit of counting my toes. He knows I am always looking for him because he is the only familiar person I can see. I do not want him to come close, but I know that he will.
One foot in front of another, he drags himself forward. He wants to scare me, but I don’t move. I usually scuttle away from the glass upon his approach and hide in the closet between the two rooms the way I scuttle away when he first began to lose his mind. This time I move closer to the glass the same time he moves forward. The glass of the window moves closer as I drag my knees the same way he drags his feet towards me. I press my forehead against the glass as he does the same.
Our eyes meet.
He still cannot see me, but I know that he knows I am there. He knows what I fear.
He mouths something to me. He mouthed this every time. Before, I always caught his words as I was fleeing. This time, I imagine hearing them in his raspy, hoarse voice. Dribble escapes from the gaps where his teeth are missing. His skin has become grey and ashy overtime. It is no longer the warm olive tone from before. At only twenty-five, his cheeks are sagging with deeply etched wrinkles.
As soon as he says these words, more of the Wandering begin to gather at the spot he stands. They surround him, and it feels like they are also surrounding me even though the glass stands between us. Though their skin appears ashy and lacking in warmth, I feel the heat seeping through the glass and into the flesh of my face. I do not realize that my eyes are closed until I open them again. I notice the coldness of my face only when the warmth from the glass is gone.
Chaser—or the rest of the Wanderings—is no longer in front of the glass.
As much as humans desire safety and although we are distrustful by nature, there is one undeniable thing:
It is difficult to explain why I am walking towards the front door and leaving the safety of the house where everything is controlled and safe, and where I can see everything and everyone without worry. But, I think it is safe to say that the sense of community might have something to do with it.
“Chaser,” I yell in no direction in particular.
In a matter of minutes, the Wanderings surround me, with them came warmth.
In the little closet where I sat enclosed, the cold walls of the house surround me. But amidst the Wanderings, although I know I will soon perish with them, I feel a sense of peace.
Ai is a Chinese-Canadian aspiring author and emerging writer who graduated with a BA in English Literature from the University of Toronto. She is currently working on a novel project under her mentor in the Humber School for Writers Creative Writing program.
K.G. Ricci has spent most of his seventy years in New York City where he currently lives and works. It has only been the last five years that he has devoted himself to the creation of his collage panels. Though not formally trained, Ken worked in the art department at the Strand Bookstore during his student years and it was there that he familiarized himself with the works of his favorite artists, including Bearden, di Chirico and Tooker. After a career in the music business and a decade of teaching in NYC schools, Ken began creating his own original artwork in earnest.