You have to die a few times before you can really live- Charles Bukowski
The grass in the Valley was a hue of yellow, brilliant and soothing. Everything shined with an inner light, the rolling hills of the countryside were gentle and sloping, the days long and the nights cool. The birds chirped in the rustling wind off of the long stalks of wheat, the sun gave its warmth, the moon its comfort. The trees offered shade; and the streams burbled always. At sunset, the sky would be set ablaze for many long minutes, each moment bringing a slight change to the hue. The animals roamed free and plentiful; Cows, goats sheep chicken duck. A few predators lurked in the shadows, but they only culled the weak from the herds and the Children could handle them easily.
Reva was such, a Child of the Valley. And this day, she awoke filled with curiosity and hope, as many days before. Yet this day….
“Is gunna be great!” Harold shouted over his shoulder as he ran down a sloping and grassy hill. Reva was sprinting behind him, her satchel flying behind her.
“Not if you lose the race to the Schoolhouse!” She shouted, doubling her pace. Harold frowned, and pushed himself, but on the downhill, Reva’s long stride had the advantage, and he found himself several paces behind, and out of breath.
“You’ll have to do better than that!” She said, panting, walking into the large building. It felt old and new at the same time, as if the foundation was from a distant times, but the walls, hastily made, were fresh. It smelled of forest, but the hum of machinery could be heard in the background. Inside, in the Great Room, the other Children were already seated in the couches on the floor, the Desktops already open. There were about thirty Children who lived in the Valley, and they were all gathered in the open hall. The afternoon sun filtered in through the stained glass windows high up on the walls, casting that same yellow glow; like an old photograph or a good emotion, upon the seated Children. They all knew that the pair had entered, late as usual, but they did not turn. Ailey was in the middle of a lecture.
“Your late.” The hologram said; flickering in annoyance.The other Children smirked. Reva was always late.
“Oh, stuff it, Ailey, you dont care. Its just your programming.” Reva snapped back, taking a seat by Landis. He was not like the short and slightly pudgy Harold. He had dark hair and a perpetual smirk which widened when Reva sat beside him. He leaned over and whispered,
“Glad you could make it. Were just talking bout the Catastrophe.”
“Thats right, young Landis.” the hologram said, pacing in front of the Children. But maybe we should talk about programming. We all have it, you know, and you have programmed yourself to be perpetually late to my class, Reva.”
“I know, its just that-”
“No excuses. It won’t happen again. Rather, make sure it doesn’t”
“Yes, Ailey.” Reva said sarcastically. They had all grown up with the machine, and had gotten cynical about its reprimands. It was a game to see what inputs would result in which chastisement.
“Now, where was I?” The computer queried.
“You had just finished telling us about the Catastrophe-”Belinda said from the front
“Again.” Reva whispered the interruption to Landis.
“-and were about to give us new material. About the Heroes Journey.” That was Belinda, always trying to show off her knowledge, even to a computer program.
“Very good, Belinda.” Ailey said.”Now, Children, you have lived in this valley for 16 years, growing strong and learning, safe from the horrors beyond, out of reach of the Catastrophe. We have kept you here, safe; a new generation that might help rebuild. But some of you have become curious of the wider world, beyond the safety of the wall. And I must tell you, there is nothing worthwhile outside. The Hero’s Journey, the stories that happen to all people only happen within, in the hearts, minds and spirits of every single one of you. All you need, every answer, you already possess. It was the unbridled passion for more and further boundaries that pushed humans to commit the Catastrophe upon themselves, it was your desire to ignore your spirits for the pursuits of comfort and the subjugation of nature that threw the world into disaster. Only because of the Benefactors were you saved, allowed to grow in safety, and knowledge. Look around you-” Ailey said, her greenish hand gesturing around the great hall. The Children all looked up at the familiar sight. The walls were entirely made of books, of every description. And any that were not there could be found on the Desktops, small squares set into the walls. Everything ever created by humanity before the Catastrophe was there. And even some things the Children had made for themselves.
“What do you know of the spirit?” Landis asked, angrily. He had always been more curious about life outside the Wall, even more so than Reva.
“I know what the Benefactors programmed me to know, just as olden society did to other
young people like yourselves. Thats why you were brought here, away from all seeds of dischord, that you may grow and prosper away from what led to the Catastrophe and the Downfall of Man.”
“You always talk about that stuff but we don’t even know what this Catasrophe was, or who the Benefactors or. Or life outside of this stinking Valley!” Landis said, standing up, pointing angrily at the projection. A worried face appeared on Ailey. “ For all we know, your somehow holding us hostage here or something! Dont you see,” He said, turning to face the other Children, all shocked and stunned, though some faces nodded, “ We know nothing, besides all the books and movies and science, we know nothing about our world, about Earth! And its these things-”
“Stop, Landis.” Reva said, pleading, wishing that her voice would have more authority, yet knowing there was truth in his words.
“No, I want real answers!” He shouted, throwing his cushion to the side.
“Please, Landis,” Ailey said in a voice calm and stern, “ Its not time. Your not ready yet”
“Then when will I be!” He said angrily. He took a look around the room, and knew that they all felt as he did; how many times had each and every one at some point tried to make it out past the long plateaus at the end of the Valley, and each time, they always got disoriented and found themselves back at the start of the trail, like their little world was a small globe. It was no use.
“Im going riding.” He said, storming off. Some of the Children, his close friends, got up, but Ailey interjected,
“Let him go. He needs time alone…”
The sun was setting, had just touched the horizon, when Reva found Landis in his favorite spot, high up on a patio that the tree branches made. It was the best place to watch a sunset. Below, grazing in the forest, was Landis’ horse, tired from the long ride.
“We all feel like you, you know.” Reva said, quietly sitting next to him. He didn’t look up. There was quiet for some minutes. The sun was halway hid by the horizon, a dark red splashed across the sky, the twinkling of stars just starting to the west.
“I just don’t understand. We can’t be kept here forever. I mean, what was that about ‘the Journey is Within’. What kind of rubbish is that? Its almost like they don’t want us to leave.”
“Yea, if a stupid robot can even want anything.” Reva said, chuckling. Landis too, cracked a smile. Reva thought it was kind of goofy, but also kind of nice.
“You know,” She said, “ Harold says your a troublemaker.” Landis laughed out loud.
“Well, I think he is a nerd.”
“Aren’t we all.” Reva said. “Chores, learning, experiments, fun. Thats life. And its good.” She added hasilty. Landis looked intently at the sun, a sliver, then turned and in an angry burst,
“But good enough? They say we are not ready, but I feel ready. I can run a marathon, wrestle down a tiger. I am proficient with all the weapons.I have mastered all the sciences. I can meditate for three hours straight. I have made my own food and clothes since we came out of the nursery. I FEEL ready.” He said, punching his fist lightly on the wood.
“But maybe…” Reva started, but knew it was not true. She felt ready too. For the wider
world. The journey inside might be the only important one, but she was just dying to get outside and see what life really was like in the world in the After.
The sun was well gone by the time they split ways, each going to their separate homes. Each Child had built there own cottage, secluded from the others. Revas was by the stream, inside of a hill. As she approached, her animals all clucked at her arrival. Her horse, Mickaa neighed.
“Sorry we couldn’t go riding today, girl.” She whispered into its ear, as it whinnied and
pushed against her. “Maybe tomorrow.” But at those words the horse whinnied and jumped away.Reva chuckled.
“Okay, okay girl, if you insist. Lets go.” And she saddled Micka and took the horse trotting through the dusky Valley. Some fires burned in windows as she passed, Reva could hear the salmon in the stream making splashes as they landed back in the water. They loved to jump at dusk. The cry of the pigeons seemed especially mournful this night. A cool wind blew from the north, and Reva wrapped her shawl tighter. It seemed colder than it usually got in Valley. She took Mickaa into a full gallop, past the Schoolhouse, and the Slaughterhouse, and the Nursery, unused now these last eight years. No one ever had gone back inside.
Reva took her horse all throughout the Valley, each spot bringing its own sweet memory. Beating Harold in a run by the tall oaks for the first time, swimming with her friends in the Pond. Learning outside, all together, laughing and discussing the books and knowledge that there machine teachers would give them. After the talk with Landis it all seemed quaint, somehow, fulfilling, yet lacking in some unexplicable quality.
“What could it be?” Reva thought to herself. “ We have everything here.” Yet why did she feel sad, sometimes, and restless? She did not know.
Finally, she arrived back at her house, washed down Mickaa, and went to bed. Tomorrow would be another day....
And so it was. The rooster crowed at sunset, and the Valley stirred awake. Reva awoke slowly from her dreams. She could not pinpoint them, but they had seemed dark and scary. She had remembered seeing some of the other Children.
“Weird.” she thought. As she went through her morning. First it was prayers to the AllThing, the Infinite Creator of the Universe. Then, collecting the chicken eggs, and making a fresh breakfast. She got ready for school as she had done so many days before. Her tunic made a season before, her boots of the finest cow. At some impulse, she decided to take her bow and arrow, and sword. It was odd for her to choose two weapons to take to school; often she would go fishing or sit with her friends at some other craft. Yet, today, she felt rebellious and angsty. A good sword fight, or a few downed pigeons would probably help. With everything in order, she stepped out of her cottage. Can it be forgiven that she did not wave goodbye or glance at her faithful animals? Could she not have guessed that today would be the day that everything changed?
Yet the morning started normally, her friends were all gathered outside the Greathouse, gossiping and chatting about artwork they had done, or some competition lost. The teachers were strolling around the clumps of students, trying to entice them to one subject or another, with the promise of interesting experiments or a fresh outlook. Yet today nobody was that interested. Reva quickly noticed that all the Children had chosen weapons. That was definitely odd.
“Hey, Harold.” She called, striding quickly towards him and his group of science aficionados.They looked up from there animated discussion at the approaching girl.
“Yes?” He said. Reva noticed that strapped to his back were the single action rifle he favored, and the boomerang shield.
“Listen,” she said, in a hushed voice.”Have you noticed that everyone has brought there weapons?” Harold,and his group looked up, startled.
“Why, no, I didn’t. That is, statistically speaking, quite odd.” He said, and looked around his group. They were all armed to the teeth. The group started talking probabilities and statistics but Reva was not listening. She was looking up at the sky. At the dark patch that was eating a hole in her sky.
“Oh, my, G-d.” Belinda said, staring at the ever-widening gap in the sky. It was dark like the blackest night, darker than it had ever been in the Valley, and it was closing in on the sun.
“Ailey!” Someone shrieked, and then the holograms too looked up at the sky, sheer panic pixelated on there faces.
“What is it?” Someone else yelled. Panic and fear was setting in. The sky was falling.
“Quickly, children, there is not much time.”
“Whats going on?” Landis demanding, his voice quavering despite the bravado. And then Ailey looked at him with something in its eye, a sterness, a fire, a passion, that had not been seen before, something that was not entirely machine, and then it passed.
“We are entering into our emergency protocol. The Valley has been breached. We were surprised. We do not know by what or by whom. You must hurry, escape, flee! You have a better chance to survive if you are alone! Now, Children, Go! Before they arrive!”
And out of the hole in the sky, dark drops of black rain began to drift down into the valley. Reva could not tell what they were until they got closer. The looked humanoid, but there features were grotesque. And the rode rumbling flying machines.
“Now, Children, fight for your lives! Products of the Catastrophe have broken into your homes!” and then the holograms too, fled, seemingly distracting the onrushing horde. And somewhere in the mad rush, Ailey found Landis, who was trying to organize a line of defense, and whispered in his ear that no one else would hear,
“You are getting your wish.” And before Landis could ask any questions, Ailey had run off, and the first of the creatures on the flying machines had swooped down with hiss and a cackle, dropping a bomb that exploded on the golden grass, leaving a big round crater.Battle had begun.
Reva immediately fired a few volleys at the intruders, scoring a hit on one of the machines. It barely had an effect. She looked around; it was madness. Children were running in all directions, there was only a small resistance, led by Landis. The creatures were destroying the whole valley with there bombs, tearing dark holes seemingly into the very fabric of reality. Reva called to Landis,
“Im going to get Mickaa. Ill be more effective!”
“Hurry!” He shouted back, “We can’t hold them off for long!” He shouted, one of his rocks, projected from a simple sling, knocking one of the foul creatures from its machine. Reva quickly turned from the scene of battle and rushed at a full sprint back to her cottage. She knew it would only take a minute, but already the creatures were everywhere in the valley. She saw other Children being chased by the creatures, some battling, others sprinting for there lives. She rounded a bend and saw her cottage; Micka was in the pen, neighing and whinying in terror, gnashing at the fence, trying to jump over.
“Hold on!” Reva yelled, “Im almost there Mickaa!” But suddenly from overhead she heard the awful whirring and knew before it happened what would be.
“Nooooo!” Reva screamed, as one of the foul creatures dropped a bomb directly on her cottage, causing an explosion that made her shield her eyes. When she was able to look back, where her house once was there was nothing but a crater; nothingness. She screamed again; there was debris scattered everywhere but she could not look. She ran towards the hole and looked down, and the sight made her dizzy. Instead of a hole into dirt, below her feet there was a snow storm raging below, in the crater where her house had once stood. She was looking below the Valley, and it was winter! The sight made her sick, she vomited into the hole. Reva could not tell what was up anymore, everything was being destroyed.Poor Mickaa... She looked up, Landis alone was fighting the creatures, but was being slowly pushed back into the forest, and the patio where just the other day they had been sitting and talking.The Valley was a battlefield of craters. And then Reva looked back up, the sun was half eaten by the darkness. How could that be? she thought numbly; when suddenly, from this blackness, there emerged a horrifying figure, floating down towards the Children. He called out in a deep and raspy voice, a voice made to give despair.
“Heed, Children, for the Destroyer has come, and that is I, for I am Mephisto, and I have come for your world. For your Fear. For your souls.So prepare! And we shall see who lives, and who shall die!” And with that he let out a laugh that was almost a sob, painful and disorienting, his cry rang through the valley.
Sheer panic gripped Reva, like none she had ever experienced before, not even when she had faced down a tiger for the first time, nor in the long jumps head first into the pond. It paralyzed her and made her numb. She did not think she would move from this spot, ever. And the carnage continued,even as she stood looking at it, numb and powerless.
But suddenly! From the other side of the sky, the kind face of Ailey appeared, and rang out in the gentle and assured tone.
“Heed me, Children, and fear not! For fear is the Mind-killer. Now, more than ever, you must remember truly, WHO YOU ARE! Do not forget! Ascend, my dear Children, Ascend, and all will be yours. And Remember-” But the sentence was cut off by Mephisto crashing into the hologram, scattering his bits to the four corners. Reva looked behind her, an approaching horde of the ugly creatures snorted and grunted towards her. Calmly, she put several arrows through the heads of the quickest, and looked once more into the swirling blizzard. She knew what to do. Gathering her courage, she took one last look at the crumbling Valley, and whispered a prayer goodbye, before jumping down into the hole, and falling down down through the bitingly cold blizzard, landing in a snow drift, and blacking out.