Fantasy Urban Fantasy Science Fiction

We sit outside before midnight to listen for footsteps from the desert. I ask the man next to me why the spirits look like one of us. He says we can only see what we understand. 

His rough hand plops down on my head. 

“You ready kid?”

Once the noise dies down, we stomp out the fire and shake the smoke from our blankets. I dig out the last scoop of beans and lick my fingers. The cans clink together in my bag while we walk toward our forts. 

I duck my head to get inside our dusty room. My brother shoves an old wooden door into the cut-out frame and clamps the sheet metal to block out the wind and cold. The sound of locks and chains ring out in the alley. We’ve lived in this row for almost two years, a gathering of rusty forts all strung together with battery powered lights and shards of stained glass. Everyone takes shelter inside, before the Earth wakes up to walk around. 

We spent the previous night celebrating Tuesday, because Tuesday is the day the spirits of the desert visit with us. We let them into our alley, and they entertain us until the sun rises. They bring baskets with dry beans and cactus juice, and we thank them and praise them for their magic. A spirit will stand on top of a stump when the moon is brightest and claw a hand in the pale light. The ground below turns to soggy soil. The spirit moves its shoulders back and forth and sings until a flower sprouts. Then tomatoes and apples and cucumbers and dandelions. 

The Earth communicates to us this way, through spirits. Thousands of them roam around the camp, celebrating the desert, while we drink old beer and try to draw up our own flowers. There’s not many of us left on the outside of The Terrarium. Most of us are on the inside, and so the Earth is not afraid to heal. 

I’ve never seen anyone from the inside of The Terrarium, except the food delivery men. The last time we heard news from The Chairman, or from The Chairman’s messengers, they told us The Terrarium was nearly complete, spanning over almost 2000 miles, connecting Arizona to Wyoming as far north as Canada and down through the middle of Mexico. The Chairman has plans to extend The Terrarium to fit the entire west coast by the end of 2375. 

For now, we can live in our camp, somewhere in the South East of California, as repairmen for the walls of The Terrarium. The walls require constant maintenance to stay secure from the ruthless wind and sun, and intruders. We patch up the walls to keep ourselves away. 

The people inside The Terrarium need everything. They have food, water, heat, electricity, air conditioning, phones, homes, cars, televisions, gas stations, swimming pools. They have everything to protect with their walls that we patch for them. 

The fort people have some things they’ve lost on the inside. We have the animals that survived the turn of the 24th century. These animals are resilient to nature’s finest attempt to exterminate them. A species of desert owl became invasive on the ledge of the walls we repair, feasting on lizards scattered across the desert floor. We know not to hunt the birds. The first and only time a man captured an owl in trap and cooked the bird over a midnight fire, the man was found the next morning in his bed with the feathers stuffed in his nose and his dead, cold mouth. We think the spirits have wives, and those wives keep the owls as pets. They used their magic to take life and bring back that owl. 

Life on Earth is a precious novelty now, and we live in harmony with all forms of life, without any hunt. This leaves us dependent on food delivery from the inside, which is never enough. Once a month a dump truck brings us old canned corn, tuna, stale crackers and occasionally some disfigured potatoes and melons. We ration food to each fort according to the number of occupants. A second water truck arrives every two weeks to fill up our tank. The water is always hot when it arrives, and the driver is always angry. They think we’re witches, so they carry guns where we can see them, and they don’t let us ask them any questions. We stand in silence while they take census. 

Some of us sneak into The Terrarium, through a hole in the wall the inspectors haven’t found yet. We come back with bags of stolen chips, water bottles, chocolate, frosted donuts, energy drinks, coffee, gum and beef jerky. We pass the treasures in a circle, breaking off one bite at a time until we lick the salt from the edge of the wrapper.

We think of getting into The Terrarium, andstaying there. The dream haunts us durinf the day. Maybe we could hide inside the delivery truck like a Trojan Horse and takeover the city. We would eat all their meats and milk and bread they hoard in freezers and cut off the generators that keep them cool. We would party in their bathtubs and rinse the dirt from under our fingernails. Our shoulders would never be burned, and our lips would never be cracked. Most importantly, we could think about things. Just lay around, free to sleep and dream and fall in love.

I really, really want these things. I want them so much I begged the gas station manager on the edge of The Terrarium to let me work on the pumps for expired meals alone. He kicked me out and threatened to report me to the wall inspectors for unapproved entry. He told me if I came back, he’d set my fort on fire and cease deliveries to the outside.

On my way home from the gas station, I stand on a ledge where I can see the forts in front of me, and the edge of The Terrarium behind me. I wonder why I am being punished by my hand of cards, and I imagine ways to punish him. I could scare off his customers from the pumps, the ones who think I’m a witch of the desert. I could release a jar of lizards behind the bathroom sink. 

I watch the spirits start to roll in from the hills. An army of murky reflections march toward our forts. I can smell the sage in their baskets.

I know the man in the gas station is an empty threat. He will not set fire to my fort and he wouldn’t dare aggravate the fort people by cutting off their food supply. Most importantly, he will never leave The Terrarium. This man in the gas station is not at peace with The Earth as it is. He lives in fear of The Earth, and so The Earth fears him back. The Earth bites him like a scared dog with forces from that will break down all order, including this man in his Terrarium. 

He is afraid and I am free. Although I am hungry, and tired and burned, this man sets me free when he sends me back to the desert. He sends me to be with the owls and the spirits that sing and grow vegetables with magic. To live in the night with the lizards crawling on my back while I sleep. One day when this earth becomes too hot for my species to survive, I will pass with my friends the way old ghosts do. I will not cling to my body so severely that I strangle it and build a wall around it. I will cultivate this earth or go down with it to become the soil that grows the New World. 

April 24, 2021 02:54

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