Suddenly I find myself awake, my mind already returning to last night’s thoughts.
I’ll send a note down to my house for Mother and Ni. Then I’ll go.
I have enough food for a couple of months, if I’m careful, and enough water for almost that long.
Does it matter though? Actually speaking? It won’t change anything.
The light from outside of my tent is faint, from the moons only.
I drag my bag outside of the tent, rifle through my belongings until I find the notebook I brought. I find my pen in the bottom, and hastily pull that out as well. I scribble a note to Mother and Ni, careful not to write over existing letters and words.
I scrounge around on the top of the wall, searching for loose rocks. I eventually find one, and though it is small, I secure the note to it with a bit of string. Before I can talk myself out of it, I drop the rock over the wall.
“Iran, please forgive me, and get this note to my mother and Ni.” I can only hope the god of mercy will understand.
Now that I have told them I will not return, I pack up all of my belongings, save the rope. I pull up as much as I can, coiling it on the wall next to me. I reach down and cut the rope.
I untie my harness and remove my backup rope from my bag.
I lay down on top of the wall and pull my shoulders and arms over the edge away from home. I search the surface of the wall for a place to insert a camming device, luckily finding one not far down from the top. I attach a carabiner to the camming device and begin working the rope through it.
I fashion a new harness and tie a loose sliding knot not far above it. I will have to climb down the wall to the end of my doubled rope, and then I should be able to lower myself along the rope to the ground. The only problem is that I won’t get my rope back.
On a whim, I take a piece of twine from my pack and a good sized rock from the top of the wall and tie the rock to the rope. Once I get to the bottom and remove my harness, the sliding knot should slide down with the additional weight of the rock. Then I can keep my rope.
I throw the remaining length of the first coil over the wall.
I pull my pack over my shoulders and prepare myself for the descent. Once I feel ready, I lower myself over the edge of the wall, finding grips with my feet.
Slowly I begin climbing down. My arms, legs, and hands ache and throb as I descend. Acteonil, Cayne, Naiyah, Vilmariy, four moons I saw earlier tonight, shine brightly in the sky, along with Morik, Favonius, Shelaght, and Odhrin. They provide some illumination to my work, though it is scant compared to when N’Zembe burns hot and white-blue above me.
The wall is endless, my rope is long. It feels as though I will never reach the ground. I long to quit climbing, but to do so could be dangerous. If I fall now, I could bang against the wall and hit my head. I already have a concussion, another hit could be deadly.
Everything hurts. There will be no relief until I reach the ground. I can’t see the ground below me, and the wall mere inches from my face is in deep shadow.
Finally my rope feels tighter. It hangs above me, attached to a carabiner some distance above, though my eyes cannot focus on something so small in the dark, even without a concussion. I look at Odhrin, a dark blue and gray disc, and it splits into two, the images swimming close together and further apart. I turn my attention back to the wall in front of me, my head throbbing harder than before.
I close my eyes and remove my hands from the wall. I slide downwards, but don’t fall. A grin splits my face, and I take my feet from the wall as well. I move downwards more quickly now that my weight is propelling me, but not so fast that it scares me.
I drift down, down, down, and yet I still can’t see the ground! This wall is clearly intended to be impassible, or that’s how it seems.
Why build these walls? Why all the death outside them? Was the world out here ever bright and filled with life? Could it ever be so again? I wonder as I fall far enough that Shelaght, Odhrin, and Morik are out of sight, blocked by this wall. Is there anything or anyone out there in that dead land? Is it possible for anyone to survive? Will I survive?
The thought shocks me. My heart beats fast. If my eyes were open, they would be glazed over. It’s too late to change my mind and do anything but wander aimlessly through this dead world, waiting for death to come to me, too.
My life has no purpose, what does it matter if I survive? Mother and Ni might miss me, but at least they still have purpose in their bright, life-filled existences. I have nothing to live for. My dream was for nothing.
I put my hands over my closed eyes, blocking out the throbbing, trying to hold out against the onslaught of hopeless thoughts. Endlessly they swirl through my mind, nothing I try to distract myself with changes that.
My feet brush against something solid. I place them against it, flat. It does not waver. I stand and open my eyes.
Faint, dark images swim before me, vacillating. I pull off my harness without untying it and place my pack over it. For now I need to rest, then I can retrieve the rest of my rope.
I lay on the ground, not bothering to pull anything out of my pack. I rest my head on it and curl into myself. The pounding in my head rises to a deafening crescendo and I struggle to sleep, exhausted though I may be. Finally, finally, I succumb to sleep, overtaken by exhaustion.
When I awake again, it is early morning, N’Zembe peeking over the distant black horizon. I force myself to sit up and look around.
A few green shoots surround where I slept, in stark contrast to all the death around it. Everything beyond that is uniform, as far as I can tell with my unstable view.
I pull my bottle out of my pack and sip it slowly. Even though it is warm, I do not want to drink it too quickly. I don’t drink much, either. I rummage through my food choices and eat a small portion.
Through my jumbled thoughts I realize I cannot rest uncovered during the day. Fears of heat stroke rush through me and I clumsily raise my tent with the walls toward the rising sun and crawl inside.
I lay down, feeling helpless and worn out.
If there is green here, maybe there is more that I couldn’t see from the top of the wall.
I eventually drift off.
I spend the next week or so resting a lot and consuming the bare minimum for survival. By that time, I seem to be recovering at least somewhat from my concussion.
A lush green carpet has sprung up around my tent, but the rest of the world is still black and empty. It puzzles me; I cannot for the life of me figure out how or why anything grows here but nowhere else.
“I should see if anything else grows out there,” I say aloud. It’s early morning and the sky is tinged a darkish blue with a rising circle of white along the horizon.
I eat and drink then pack up my tent and bag and rope. It takes a few minutes to get all the rope together, but I do get it back as I had hoped.
Shakily, I push myself to my feet and slip my arms into my bag’s straps. I look around. The black extends endlessly around me until the ground meets the sky. But the ground near me is covered in green shoots.
I place one foot in front of the other and repeat endlessly until my feet ache and my legs complain.
I look around, all is black around me. The wall rises up behind me, imposing even from this distance. I haven’t traveled far, but it was a long and hard walk under the hot sun.
I raise my tent and sit under it. I eat and drink and then rest.
The next morning is the same. A circle of green shoots surrounds my tent but nothing grows anywhere else.
As before, I pack up and head out. Walking, walking, walking. Taking step after step after step until I can bear it no longer. Day after day after day.
N’Zembe beats down on me and I long for shade. If only there was a tree. Or even a bush I could lay next to for a bit. Anything. Anything but this endless dead land with no escape.
The wall is a thick line obscuring the horizon, but appears small from this distance. I’m so, so far away.
Sluggishly, I pull up my tent and lay under it. I sip from my bottle slowly. Soon I fall asleep from exhaustion.
I wake up in the middle of the night to the gnawing of my stomach and the dryness in my throat. I open my pack, keenly aware of how little I have left in supplies.
I’m going to die here. I don’t have enough food or water to go back now. I shiver. There’s no green out here either, I can’t find more food or water.
Shakily, I take a sip from my bottle and lay back down.
The thought echos through my head, keeping me from sleep. I’m going to die, I’m going to die, I’m going to die.
I turn on my side, beginning to sob. Leaving the walls was a mistake. Climbing the wall at all was a mistake. I wish I didn’t know, hadn’t seen.
Eventually, I collapse into sleep, though I’m not even aware of such a reality until I find myself waking up. I just lay there, paralyzed as my thoughts from the night before resurface, clawing out of my subconcious. They spiral, circling through the same few thoughts inescapably.
I’m going to die… Why did I leave? Why did I have to see? Everything’s dead, and soon I will be… I miss Ni and Mother… They probably think I’m dead… I’m going to die… I wish I had never thought of climbing the walls…
I forced myself to eat and drink a little. I looked out of my tent at the dead, black earth.
Somehow, a new thought crept in, pushing the hopelessness aside at least for now.
How did this happen? Why is everything dead? I squint, trying to think of reasons.
A different, startled thought, “I haven’t prayed!”
I crawl out of my tent and kneel on the black earth, raising my arms to the heavens and closing my eyes as I turn my face skyward under the direct heat of N’Zembe.
I think first of Fasa, the giver and protector of life. “Fasa, I call on you now to keep me from the clutches of Saun who has surrounded me on all sides. Please preserve my life! Avun, giver of hope, please come to me. Without you I may give in to death. Irek, preserver and protector, please preserve me. Work with Fasa and Avun to keep me from Saun. I am hopeless, running low on supplies, and worn from my climb and my travels. Please come to me!”
I remain still and do my best to quiet my thoughts. I slow my breathing and relax.
Soon my flesh feels hot from N’Zembe, so I go back into my tent.
I eat and drink a bit more before allowing myself to drift back into sleep. I still fear I might die, but if the gods have heard me, my fears will not be realized.
A few days go by the same as the last. Eat, drink, pray, and sleep.
I notice the tufts of green that I saw as I traveled. With each day when I go out to pray there are more. After a short while there is a carpet of green underfoot and a sprout resembling galos, a fast-growing edible leaf.
Sure enough, a few days after I spotted the sprout, and just as I’m at the end of my supplies, there is a large succulent galos. Just when I need it, it’s ready.
“Thank Fasa!” I shout. “For you truly are the giver of life!”
I turn in a circle, astounded at the gorgeous patch of greenery surrounding me. It tapers off a few yards away from my tent, but the plants that grow within! More galos, the start of some malna, a brelth bush, and a valen tree, a short stout tree offering plentiful shade when it’s grown.
I spread my arms, close my eyes, and turn my face skyward in thanksgiving.
And as if things couldn’t get better, it begins to rain. First a soft drizzle, then light sprinkling, into a full-on downpour!
I put out my water jars and use the rain to rinse my food jars to fill them with rain as well.
I kneel in the rain and turn my face upwards into it, spreading my arms in a prayerful position. “Thank you Fasa, Avun, Irek for saving my life!”
Days pass and the plants bloom and flourish around me, creating a small slice of paradise amidst a black, dead world. I have enough water for nearly a month and food growing around me as fast as I can eat it.
I’m going to survive. I think triumphantly. I’m not going to die!
It is then that I am struck with conviction. Plants grew around me. I can go back. I can bring others out here. I can keep my promise to Mother and Ni.
We can all enjoy this vast world and make it green again.
This is the first part of my novella The Diary of Kaashif Sarwan. The first two lines, “It’s been so long that no one knows why the walls were built. Nobody wants to leave.” were the prompt that inspired the story.
This takes place on Irqulnirn after the apocalypse.