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Urban Fantasy Sad Science Fiction

My name is Eden. It's an old name my father found in a book from long ago. The book had said it meant heaven, apparently. I think heaven means the sky?

I don't know what's so good about the sky. It's thick and heavy, a constant weight of grey that threatens to fall onto the city like a poorly made blanket fort would envelope you in an uncomfortable darkness. Nothing good ever seemed to come from the sky.

I suppose the rain was nice. Sometimes. We never got to go outside, but to hear the gentle patter of the rain on plastic window protectors was nice. I had always wondered how how rain would feel- when I shower it's relatively warm, but my mother prefers piping hot showers that leave you dizzy when you rush in too quickly after waiting for the toilet, showers that made a stuffy humid wetness permeate anything of texture like a towel.

I was nearly caught in the rain once or twice. In those times, nearly everyone would offer you entrance into their homes, their consciousness weighing on them. Apparently come people had used this kindness to begin robberies in the rain.

Stormchasers they had been called. Someone had mentioned it in passing before the teacher had re-restricted the wifi again. I wonder if teachers have a big red button on the side of their screens to just take away the internet whenever they please. Or several, each shiny button a different colour and an equally different technique to make students miserable.

Mother wanted to call me every lunch and evening. Father sometimes joined in, but he wasn't always home. I think mother is quite lonely. She was from the countryside originally, where people aren't protected from the smog and the rain. For weeks they could be locked up inside, unable to leave their homes until the rain let up. They didn't get to live in schools like I can, but had to stay cooped up with their parents- offline and on rations until supplies could be sent. To me it sounded like a nightmare.

But she said there were good things. On sunny days, when the news said pollution levels were low enough, you could go outside. When she was little the whole family would make an event of it, getting up early and staying out late, enjoying the feeling of the sun warming their skin and feeling wind. I'm not sure what wind is like, mother has always said air conditioning doesn't quite match the feeling. I wonder if it feels hot or cold as well.

Mother said they would do crazy things as well. Like eat food outside, food they carried themselves in little tins and ate, unrefrigerated for hours, sitting in in little safe-huts that were dotted along the path. Or when her parent's weren't looking she would slip off her mask for a moment, feeling the breeze on her face until she needed to take a breath again. Once as a teenager, her friend had dared her to strip down to nothing but her mask and run into the ocean. I hear the ocean is a huge pool of water, but she says no one was around. This confuses me the most- every pool I've ever been to was full of people- people crammed into swimsuits and adorned with plastic rings around their waists and arms as they shuffled between each other, letting water slosh about as if it would wash away the persistent stench of sweat and chlorine that permeated the air- but apparently she was alone with her friend.

I didn't really get a chance to think before the chime for lunch sounded. I set my screen to standby and shuffled out to a hotspot for some privacy, before setting up the call. I was met with my own face for a moment before my mother's appeared. We looked almost identical, apart from her deep bronze skin shimmering from the lightbox behind her. My tone was always more washed out, although with my father's auburn haired genes I'm not sure I'd look as beautiful as my mother does. Although she had been practically divine when she was younger. Before I could put on my jumpsuits bu myself, my mother seemed to glow like a lightbox. But now, she seemed paler, dark circles appearing under her deep onyx eyes and thin lines starting to creep into her face.

"Couldn't sleep again?" I tried to sound casual. She already had tears in her eyes when she'd signed on, but she turned away once I'd spoken. Her distress made my stomach twist in shame.

"Mother?"

"Eden... I was going to call. You're to come here today."

Here, not home. It was then I realised the walls behind her were differrent. Instead of the soft white shiplap I was used to, it was heavier bricks and metal sheets carefully bolted into the corners.

"Where are you?"

"I'm with my mother. Dad... your grandfather was caught in the rain."

Paps. I remembered him. Vaugely. We'd talk online, like most relatives would, he still not knowing how to work a hologram. But for some reason all I could think of was his touch. Knarled, bony fingers holding my leg tenderly as he slipped on my outside boots. A misplaced scent of smoke and soap- never quite able to rid one from the other. And his old toothless smile whenever I'd tell him about school.

An irresistible urge to hold him gripped at my chest, as stupid as it was. It was obvious I'd never even be allowed to go near his body, let alone feel the warmth of his hand encompassing mine.

"I'll be there soon, Mother."

She smiled sadly, her head bobbing making me cat my reflection on the screen.

"The weather might not be great. It's rural out here, so do not leave the safe-huts without a guide. Your father said he would come down tomorrow."

Of course father would be late. He was a cargo pilot, one of the few allowed to take to the skies. Apparently people used to be allowed that high as well, on passenger planes. He would often not be around for Mother. And today, she seemed so much smaller than usual. Like she had forgotten how to adjust the camera. My hand flicked automatically, but the calibration was fine.

"I'll be there soon."

I couldn't find the words to say anything else. I quickly packed my things, using my pass to catch a shuttle down South. I had never been South before- my grandparents had always travelled in. It would be odd to see everything Mother spoke of. The large pool, the safe-huts, the homes built for her whole family. There were other children in her family, and none of them were her twins. I think they were called my Uncles? I can't imagine having to share my parents. There were twins at school: Max and Xion, but I don't think they knew any different. Mother was the oldest, so perhaps it hurt to suddenly not be the centre of your parents' love. How did they manage all the daily calls?

My phone beeped then, the warning tone. The shuttle was passing through the Southern station. Many people got off, and an official got on. He looked at my jumpsuit- orange- with a frown.

"Shouldn't you be in school? It's not a holiday."

"My grandfather has passed."

"Oh... do you mean Clifford Churchill?"

"Yes, you knew him?"

"No... but deaths in the rain spread fast around here. He had to be carried through several safe-huts as well. I'm sorry for your loss."

"It's alright," I smiled awkwardly, "Do you know how I get there?"

"It's your first time out of the city?"

"Yes Sir."

"Well, take the shuttle out that door to Safe-hut 206. Then take the SH22, then the SH02 to the halfway point and wait for the cyclic bus. Let the driver know where you want to go and he will make a stop by your home. If it starts to rain, there's a shielded pod he can send you in, but they are very expensive. So make sure to tell him it's for the funeral."

"Thank you Sir."

"No problem...."

"Oh, sorry, I'm Eden."

"Eden? Like heaven? Why would Chloe chose a name like that for you?"

"You know Mother?"

"Yes, she travels through this way. You look just like her."

"Father named me. He's a cargo pilot, so he named me after the sky."

"Oh... well maybe the sky looks nicer when you transport things through it."

I smiled awkwardly, "Well, thank you again. I'll be going now."

I scurried off to the next shuttle. I never knew what to say to those things. They sky was boring, dull and it brought rain. Who would name their child after it?

I got onto the next few changes, each shuttle the same as before. But the Cyclic bus was different. There was holes all across it, covered with the plastic we had to let light in back home on the viewing decks. I felt my body tremble, my legs turning to jelly as I crawled aboard. The driver saw my uniform, smiling sadly.

"First time?"

"Yes Sir. I'm looking to stop at 408 Southside."

"Ah, the Churchills. Don't worry, the bus is safe. The design is so you can look out the windows as we travel."

"I see, thank you," I stepped on, my pass beeping as I paid.

I tried to sit away from the holes, but it was hard. A small boy got on with his own mother then, excitedly pushing his little hands up against the hole, smearing it with fingerprints. She sat next to him, happy to let him peer through the thin thin windows.

I bit my lip, staring out at the tunnel. What was the point in seeing the bricks and lights of the outside? Someone had painted a tree which was nice, but that was about it. I had seen trees in photographs before, even pictures of people stood under many trees, but they were mostly gone now- at least ones bigger than people. The rain took most of these things.

The cyclic bus made a noise then, a separate shell descending to shield them. Creepily, the shell also had holes, another sheet of plastic over them the only form of defence. And then it began to move.

There was a bright light as the doors opened, all of us switching our shades to adjust. But then the light calmed, and I saw the sea.

The ocean was... the ocean. There will be no word or poem that can ever truly express the ocean. Mother's words made some sense though. It was a big pool. Far bigger than any building or shuttle bridge I had ever seen. A huge, endless shade of blue, uninterrupted by any building or structure. An empty pool for you and the world to delight in. Even the sky had parted, streaks of sunlight breaking through the grey and making the surface shimmer. It seemed almost alive as it moved.

It was then I remembered Paps had sent me something similar, long ago. We entered a tunnel and I turned on my phone quickly, finding the photo.

It was Paps, very young, a gap still between his teeth long before transitional teeth had been invented. It really aged the photo. Even moreso was that it was outside, where he sat with an adult who looked like Mother did now. She had a mask on but it was nothing like ours. It was thin and blue, like a small blanket. It looked as easy to wear as a t-shirt. Ours were much thicker, heavier, vented, connected to a hood and goggles. She was smiling, you could tell by the way her eyes had scrunched. Just like Mother's did. I wondered if Paps would meet his mother now he had passed.

The thought was fleeting, stupid, but a tear rolled down my cheek, hot and wet. We passed out the tunnel then, and the majesty of the ocean reminded me. I held up my phone, and sure enough I could see the same ocean behind them. A large expanse of blue. I had thought before it was just part of the sky, as they sky also used to be blue. But the ocean was darker, a man in the distance was even walking to it in nothing more than short trousers.

They all seemed so carefree. I looked back on the ocean, the tiny shreds of light still dancing on the waves. It mesmerised me, making the sudden stop of the cyclic bus jolt through me all the more.

"408 Southside? Churchill?"

"T-thank you," I jumped up, grabbing my bag and stepping off.

Suddenly I was outside, I could see a building close by. But the day was sunny and the pull was irresistible. I ran down to that beach- I swear it was called a beach- and jumped back as the ground became soft. It kicked up all around me as I kept going, almost as if whatever was pulling the waves was also pulling me.

And then there it was. The sea. It really did just seem like water. I pulled of a glove sheepishly, letting out a breath as my bronze skin didn't seem to corrode with the air. The air was odd, much colder than I had expected, but pleasant. It almost seemed to push against me gently, like a caress.

The ocean seemed alive, crashing and shushing sounds coming off the water like a rhythmic chant. And then the white foam as it dragged itself across the sands, as smooth as a machine.

And I new what I had to do then. I stripped everything off, let myself stand bare. The air was pushing on every inch of skin, letting me feel the pleasant wet coolness. I could smell salt as well, far more than the sweaty scent all masks created in a few minutes. And then I pulled off my mask like a snake finally sheds their skin, closing my eyes for a moment as I stood before the ocean, letting my lungs groan in pain as I savoured every second I could.

This!

This was the ocean!

Suddenly nature forced me to slam my mask back on, all too soon, letting me breath clean air once again in an mixture relief and regret. Oh to be back in that moment again. I shivered, although I have no idea if it was from the excitement of the cold. I knew then my Mother loved the ocean, why Paps and his mother loved the ocean. It was something that couldn't be described.

And as I dressed again, only now worrying about the rain again, I felt changed. Like I had shed the old me, the me that never knew such joys. The me that still had paps and all my sweet ignorence.

It was such a bittersweet taste.

April 22, 2022 19:08

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