This story is by Brittany Miller and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
He slipped through the lush jungle that was as wild as his heart, silent as a lioguar. His young son slinked behind him, a new bearskin wrapped around his otherwise bare body. After days of travel, they finally arrived at the glass city his son wanted to see.
High above the tallest of trees rose the glittering dome, encompassing the delicate city within, protecting it from the hungry jungle that man himself had inadvertently created in his greed. He had thought himself the ruler of the Earth, sovereign with the rights to make it produce faster and better for his growing demands. But the Earth was not to be dominated, and man had receded from the coming storm of thorny vines, toothed flowers, ravenous flora, and feral fauna. They ran screaming from the monstrous mosquitoes, gigantic snakes, and newly mutated predators into their safe city.
The budding trees parted and they finally saw the bustle inside the globe. Sleek vacuum trains shot by on their rails, taking busy people from one end of the dome to the other in a flash. Glass buildings rose like blades of grass. Sterile lights glinted and winked, casting shadows onto the descending darkness outside.
Pleasence, it was called, that perfect city.
Health, prosperity, progress, everything that leaders had ever promised they had finally delivered. Every resident was given every opportunity, people of every race and culture lived in equality. Pleasence had succeeded in getting to the root of crime and discontent. Mankind had decided it was time to do things right from the beginning, so they made their utopia from the ground up, and had succeeded in keeping it so.
He moved closer so his son could see in. How different from life in the vibrant jungle, where each moment was riddled with tension, fear, and the urgency to stay alert in order to stay alive. He had survived broken bones, bites, burns, cuts, falls, fights, illnesses, parasites, poison. His earthy skin was its own terrain of scars and stitches, like the mountain range in the distance.
They stood near the glass, and he glimpsed his reflection. In some places, his hair was braided or twisted with bright feathers, or shaved. One chunk had been pulled out by another male and had never grown back quite right. He wore a gold lioguar skin around his sun-darkened shoulders like a cloak. Colorful tattoos covered his neck, and his ears were pierced in several places. Every inch of his body was covered by something, from accident or design. He didn’t recognize himself.
He put his hand on the transparent glass, remembering when, all those years ago, he had stood on the other side of that glass, looking out. He whistled to his son, said in the mash of clicks and clacks, “Before, I live there.” He motioned inside.
His son, also with scars up his brawny arms looked at him skeptically. He laughed and looked back inside at the grey-clad people going about their business, unaware and unaffected. They didn’t even know that anyone had survived the onslaught of the jungle. They thought it impossible for humans to adapt to that carnivorous world. That’s what Emery had thought too.
His childhood was pleasant, his family loving, he had good schooling and training. He longed to become a scientist, to study nature and the Earth. He remembered that pretty girl, the pale color of her skin, and her tidy, dark hair. What was her name? He hadn’t thought about her in so long.
A lifetime ago he stood, with his hand on the window, looking out into that variegated world that was so different from his own, watching a noble storm stir in the distance. Soon raindrops would fall upon the curved glass, making them race. The sound would be melodic and lovely. Occasionally he saw a fiery or a sunny bird, or once a voracious snake, as big and long as the mourning train passing silently behind him.
Emery had everything he could hope for, and yet, there was something missing inside him. Whatever it was, he imagined it was out there in that jungle. What was it like out there?
As he turned to leave, movement caught his eye. The verdant trees parted, and out from the mysterious shadows strode a woman. She was dark, her face painted and pierced, her hair braided tightly and adorned with shimmering feathers and furs. She wore clothes made of the skin from a snake or reptile, the head, still attached, hung on her back like a hood. She was not beautiful, in fact, her face seemed marred by scars and bones long broken. There was something animalistic about the way she moved.
Her sharp eyes pierced him, pinning him where he stood. She knew exactly who she was, and what she was capable of. Nothing would ever stop her, not principles or decency, not even happiness. He had never seen anything like her, never seen anyone so strong.
She looked past him into Pleasence, the buildings, the trains, and up the glass walls. He felt her scrutiny and was embarrassed by the order that governed his life. He was ashamed of the stability, the predictability, the comfort, and ease of their lives. She was unimpressed, and turned away. Clearly her journey to the glass city had been a waste of time.
Emery’s heart leapt as she turned. No, he wanted to scream, this isn’t me! I don’t want to be here. He pounded on the glass, hoping she would hear him. Her back disappeared into the insatiable jungle. He thumped against the glass again. He turned towards Pleasence, and saw it for the first time.
A monochromatic snow-globe that held no true color, no true passion.
It was bred out of the people there. It was repressed without them ever realizing it. He was in a faded cage, prevented from feeling the colorful emotion that was inherent to humanity. Pain, rage, grief, it was all gone. He walked through the dull city, a changed man. But no one cared, they didn’t mind what they were missing. Even if he told them it would be no use, they would never survive being thrown into the wild, savage outdoors. Could he? He could think of nothing else. The only way to fill the void in his soul was to go outside. It was not enough to be a part of a perfect, hollow society, to be polite, considerate, mild- he wanted more. He began to feel stifled, consumed with finding a way to leave.
It was difficult, but he finally found the hidden door. The builders wanted to keep everyone inside, to keep them safe and ‘happy.’
He threw open the door and found himself face to face with the reality of his carnal nature. It was raining, the cold drops assailed him, beating his delicate skin. In the hues that surrounded him he felt his freedom, sensing the passion and unbridled emotions he would soon encounter. He roared up to the sky and the thunder roared back.
Within moments he felt the depth of fear as terror seized him. A golden lioguar stalked out of the vicious jungle, circling him. He was paralyzed, feeling fear for the first time. But he would not find himself bound again after finding freedom, and his fear melted with the rain into that passion he had so longed for.
When the animal pounced, he fought back. Within steps of his lifelong prison, he finally felt the colors of humanity. And when the creature fell limp at his feet, hot blood dripping from his arms and face, he reveled in the exhilaration, it was the challenge that he had craved.
He drug himself through the jungle, his life threatened at every step. When he found the people, he struggled to prove himself, to be accepted although an outsider. Every day was difficult and painful, but with every challenge he became stronger. He learned their ways, language, culture. He was pushed to his limits and united with the jungle that had captivated him since the moment he saw it.
He stood at the edge of Pleasence for the first time since he left. He was only steps away from a warm meal, a comfortable bed, safety, spoken language. He could go inside and raise his son in a civilized world with knowledge, progress, and certainty that he would live to an old age. He could be reunited with his family that he had left without saying goodbye, see what became of that girl with the docile hair. He might not live to see this chance again.
Emery wanted to tell his son all of this, but there were no words in their whistling language for any of it, and the boy had already turned away from the city.
Emery could pass his life in monochromatic peace.
He headed towards the jungle.
Or he could live his life with vivid passion.