This story is by Jorin M.T. Balynas and was part of our 2019 Summer Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
After the blackness, I always found myself in a strange mood. The edges of the bare room seemed to swell as I slowly plodded my way along the walls, the moss that coated the porous rock floated beneath my fingers. There was no door, or so I was led to believe—just myself, a camera, and a person that always remained seated at the metal chair and table in the center of the room.
This one was new.
I was never formally introduced to her, nor had I asked her name, but I already found myself in some old, familiar ecstasy trying to discover who she was. My only real clue came from the nametag sewn onto her white jumpsuit: PT-914.
I took in the full measure of PT-914’s glare—how she focused herself on me; how unrelenting and paranoid those emerald eyes seemed. I felt a great weight from them. Why would you purposefully try to not understand? There was a routine process going on inside her: A decision on whether or not I was something she could understand or would want to understand.
Two strangers in a room, yet no words could be spoken.
I had tried before, mind you, but I was met with only a tight frown and more unease. I always tried to speak with them when they first arrived, but the ones who had were now lost in the tangle of the mold.
Beyond the woman, the camera’s light blinked more often than her.
In my timeless isolation, the room had become a cocoon of utter stagnation. The only change came from the moss and lichen, which seemed to dance in an unknown breeze and grow with each passing sleep. The room was always a little too humid for me, and from the sweat that slowly accumulated over PT-914’s brow, I’d say I wasn’t the only one who found this to be more than uncomfortable.
She was a Traveller—one who was a mere passerby in my small sanctum. I used to believe this was a prison, but over time, I knew that I was meant to be in here. It had become my own, and I was able to exist in it as I wished.
I had given a tremendous amount of effort long ago to try and escape this place. I had a fixation with discovering what I had lost before being sent here. I had vague recollections, mainly retellings of what other PT-X’s had told me of the Above and the Others outside. They were beyond the moss, I knew, but how far they existed I was not privy to.
How much time I had with each Passerby seemed to be guided by some discordant elements that were far beyond my control. I did my best to understand them; to learn their motivations before my mind became ensnared by the same suffocating darkness. I would be bathed in bliss as the abyss of the black overtook me, only to be blinded by the unyielding wash of light that was ever-present in this room. As my vision came to, there would always be a new PT-X looking even more lost, anguished, and alone.
I put my attention back to the moss. I liked the way it whispered. It always had more to say than the Travellers. Sometimes, when one was particularly quiet, it told me secrets. The whispers spoke of the Others beyond the walls, how they schemed against me. They told me when the Others would come inside, how they would cut and strip away the tendrils we had taken so much time to cultivate. They didn’t know that we were too embedded. We would persist and thrive against the burning light of their ferocious machines.
Sometimes, when I was distraught and no Travellers were here to visit, it would tell me stories of the Above and how open it was. Its whispers gave me what the Others took away: dreams of places beyond the room. I relished these visions—to live in such closeness with the impossibility of the expansive Above was something I wished to know. I had always wanted to see the true blue that towered over the Above. The moss had tried to show me once, but it was only able to hold the color briefly.
The next corner of the room awaited me, it’s dark splotches and puddles that trailed under the overgrowth and across the floor were remnants of something the moss refused to whisper about. It stank of false heroism and overwhelming fear. Whenever I passed by, I always felt unwanted. The striations of mold rejected me, for they knew I was open to the thoughts of the moss. The closer I got, the more of the prickling across my skin I felt. The damp smell became a sharp stench of decay; an oppressive, vile odor that seeded itself deep within me. It was a bewildering sensation that just left me confused and wary of the untrusting mold. Why would the mold want to be amongst the fetor of rot?
Underneath the flora, innumerable desperate struggles were apparent. Pockmarked holes that battered the wall opposite the table; long grooves cut into the stone that trailed from wall to floor, the same inky smears from the floor began halfway up, trickling down to the mold that jealously lapped it up before the moss could join.
The moss didn’t like that I knew of the mold, but it didn’t try to hide it. It never lied to me. Whether it chose to or it simply did not understand the concept of a lie, I did not know. When I finally had the courage to whisper back, it would always choose silence over a soothing falsity.
A cough interrupted my thinking.
I turned to PT-914, whose gaze had already returned to its rigid intensity.
An unexpected rage rose inside of me. How dare she enter my dominion and threaten our existence with her ignorance. We have been at peace with one another, so why did the Travellers come? Was their purpose solely to antagonize me?
I felt the room grow hotter, the wetness of the air becoming more dense and fluid. She resented me for the love the moss gave me. She was jealous, lonely—isolated from the triumphant bliss of the room around me. I could see that much. PT-914 exuded a distaste for our relationship. Paranoia seeped from every pore. I could not allow such a thing to stand in my way. I moved from the stagnant wall to PT-914’s offhand.
The moss behind her responded to my anger with an echo. From within, it curled and coalesced until static was born. It was a small puddle at first, slowly growing until it was looming over PT-914.
The figure was gleaming and laboriously slow as it began to approach PT-914. Its form was indistinguishable and shapeless, mocking the occupant of the room with a swirling blue phosphorescence that danced and glittered around her body. One moment, the haze would shimmer with the qualities of a moonlit sea, the lapping waves stroked with the aqua-green qualities of the lichen; another would find it cascaded in a void of black, drawing all of the light from the room to somewhere far underneath its surface. It was here for Ascension, but PT-914 did not know this.
As it approached the table, it grew more distorted, washed in a billowing static that ebbed with the beat of my heart, forever changing in intensity. PT-914 became more unsettled, her fear overcoming her and forcing her into a frantic crawl to the wall of decay. She screamed. Whether they were words begging for mercy or curses to my existence, I did not know. The moss did not like to translate such things during Ascension.
The blanket of black was rapturous; the void a soothing coolness on my body. I felt the writhing pulsations of the moss and how pleased it was with me. It wanted to share secrets—ones of the Others and how they planned to soothe us again. They wanted to enter our sanctuary very soon, their altered children in tow with those half-wicked and rubbery, wry snouts.
My mood shifted from a seething, burning rage to the clarity of the blackness. I expanded, feeling the room open up just a bit more. I felt the loving coos and marvelous light wash over my being—a thank you for getting them closer to the Above. I opened my eyes, ran my hands along the now-damp flora, and turned my attention to the table. There sat a man with piercing blue eyes—a blue so beautiful I knew the moss had rewarded me. I praised the Others for something so glorious in my chambers. He was clean, freshly-shaven, and inviting. His palms were open to me and a warm smile reflected the brilliance of his teeth. They shined as bright as his white jumpsuit, embroidered with a crisp PT-915.