The largest city on the Island was also the only city. Vincent gazed up at the scale of tightly packed stone that formed a wall around the crumbling structures within. The sun’s crown shimmered like sugared rose petals from behind, defining the silhouettes of the buildings, sharpening them with each passing second.
In the beginning, a grey smog rolled over the walls but it had eventually subsided, and the city grew more or less silent as the years went by. However, upon listening closely, the gentle hum of life buzzed within. No one went in or out. Vincent had circled the place hundreds of times and had never been able to pinpoint an opening. The city was sealed and for the people outside the walls, it was everything. What happened in there was a mystery. Rumours stated that there were indoor farms sustaining the city people; that there were bubble wrapped men working in laboratories, attempting to neutralise the seas and skies; that there were military men snatching up mutants from all over the Island for experimentation.
After the oceans began vomiting fish and whales in a sludge of yellow foam, everyone had retreated inland. The coastal towns reeked too hard of rotting corpses. Bones littered the beaches and the sunlight scorched the earth into vapours. Once, green lush life sprawled all over the Island but had now become dotted with rugged brambles and much further inland near the wall, dry thickets stormed the landscape. As the waters rose, selected people were chosen for the city leaving the infected to fend for themselves. Many of them suffered from starvation and the cold. The air held a chill and was thin, particularly in the lowlands that fell away from the centre of the Island where the city was situated.
Vincent scrambled down the rocky valley to his hut. The temperature dropped dramatically when the sun set. Unprepared wanderers often perished in the lowlands, their bodies found in between the spaces created by the boulders and stones.
Vincent’s makeshift shelter was simple. Lean, bendy branches were woven together tortoise shell style. The inside and outside were caked thick with mud, creating solid walls to keep safe from the biting wind in the night. The little hut’s ability to retain heat after dark yet keep cool and dry in the blistering sun was sheer lucky craftsmanship on Vincent’s behalf. Although, he was wise enough to add finishing touches; a circular pit he had dug out in the centre of the hut served him as a warm hearth for added comfort. His arch of an entrance was patched up with hoary black bin bags like a giant dog flap, secured down to the floor at each corner by rocks. It managed to blend in with the surroundings, perched on an obscure, secluded shelf deep in the valley. No prying eyes here.
Other people out here surely keep their homes under wraps. Plashuk always seemed to say things they both knew simply for the sake of conversation. Half the time, Vincent would not bother replying. Yet an air of agreement hung about them as they sorted through their stash of wild berries, old tins of beans and sweetcorn, leafy tit-bits and olive jars. Grabbing a tired Tupperware and a torch from one of the piles of accumulated goods, Vincent hobbled outside and into the face of the rocks.
Strategically planned, Vincent had completed his hut within range of a cave. The opening was a mere crack and Vincent’s stooped posture and slight humpback could just about slip through. However, the cave interior was vast and the shadows poured down for miles and miles into the earth’s crust. It was a complex of underground streams and platforms and rooms like the secret work of giant ants. Heavenly architecture. The tubes folded over one another and the electricity of the cave reverberated around sparking Vincent’s lonely thoughts as he ventured deeper.
Caves! Aren’t they always so magnificent? Plashuk echoes.
Spotlight. Enormous grey teeth on either side. Pointed patterns lined their path, splattered with still, untouched pools of glass. Vincent gingerly approached the lip of one. He met his own eyes; the warm colour of maple syrup. His bulldog face managed a lumpy smile on one side. And sprung from his lengthy thick neck, Plashuk also observed his reflection. Ropes of matted hair dangled limply on either side of his face. Plashuk’s eyes were luminous, even in the infinite black of the cave. Bright. Brilliant. Toxic. His irises were always pulsating as if lightning bolts were quietly charging there.
Let’s keep moving. Water ain’t gonna fill itself. Vincent did not need Plashuk’s prompting. He found that his contemplation was often disrupted by Plashuk’s logic and brash comments. But he wasn’t a bad guy; after all, he was only a fraction of the man Vincent was and unable to control the body. His mouth over compensated. Vincent often wished Plashuk’s understanding was less like the shallow pools scooped about them but rather, dreamed that he should attain a consciousness that rushed like the underground streams with the prospect of endless possibilities; always changing and flowing with the natural rhythm of things.
He plodded on. Upon reaching the entrance of the usual destination, Vincent always took a deep breath. Maybe it was how thin the air was down here. Maybe it was the peculiar creeping feeling of excitement that took hold of his chest every time. Inhale slow. Exhale slow. Inhale slow. Exhale slow. The entrance was a crevice. A faint glow, cold and blue, frosted the walls of the opening. He drifted through the light, totally enraptured, and surrendered to its staggering beauty. Sweet pure light. Temporarily dazzled, the blinding power eventually gave rise to forms: a vast shining lake, turquoise yet blossom pink like a kiss exclaimed itself and resonated within Vincent’s heart; strong and constant. An orbital ledge swooped around the rim of the crystalline basin.
Capsuled in time and mystery, ghostly aurochs and horses adorned the walls in colours of blood and mud. Their juicy and pregnant bodies overlapped each other in a transparent cycle. Vincent always considered the various painters of these monumental codes; clearly signifying something mystical. Sacred. No doubt it was sacred. The stampede of spirits surged across the rock wall as the resurrected protectors of the secret lake. They travelled like a giant primal scream, echoing through the ages into Vincent’s brain; the complex thoughts, the beliefs and understanding of a peoples had been shaped into the comprehensibility of animals, now long forgotten by most. They also served Vincent as a bittersweet reminder that this land was once abundant with life. This was the birth place of modern man.
Everything exists inside. He concluded.
An hour or ten minutes, Vincent was uncertain of how much time had passed. An affinity with his ancestors had occurred. It was as if the ancient painters’ artistic evolution of perceiving the oneness of the past and future had ignited within him. The eternal presence permeated space and time, and unstoppable forces from far beyond human existence announced themselves. The sloping shoulders of these sacred creatures bounded across the centuries, championing truth to all who dared to care. It all made sense here in the still, lonely quiet.
Vincent opened the lid of the Tupperware and dragged the container through the silken sunset below. It shimmered, waving outwards across the expanse as he lifted the container. He drank gratefully. Plashuk gulped greedily. Please sir, I want some more. Vincent filled the Tupperware again for him.
Sitting on the low ledge, he then attempted to remove his boots, rugged and weathered from forever’s wear and tear. They were stuck on his feet and refused to come off. He struggled once more before relaxing back and taking a deep breath in the wake of the Holy Water.
Ain’t nothing left to be done. Plashuk stated.
Vincent raised one half of his thick wiry eyebrow which seemed to say pfft. Be real. I haven’t had a true crack at it yet. Still got life left pumping up and down and around my sinews. He smiled somewhat wryly.
Oh yeah? You didn’t even have the energy to fight off that gangly slime-mutant fella for that can of chestnuts at the dump the other night.
And what would you be without me exactly? Ummm, I know! Non-existent. Or In hell. Snapping at Plashuk’s cynicism with more cynicism. Vincent resented being made to feel incompetent by a talking growth that could not even raise a finger.
Yeah, well, what’s the point in being me anyway, huh? Plashuk resented feeling like nothing more than a talking growth. And Vincent shot him a sympathetic glance as soon as he realised where his short temper had struck. I’m so fucking insignificant. Plashuk sounded resigned. But his own apathy only stirred his anger. Can’t even do shit…Can’t physically do shit. Might as well be in hell. He simmered down.
Vincent sighed deep and long, his bulbous beautiful eyes transfixed by the lake. He glanced to the right at Plashuk’s defeatist face. There’s no point in saying that shit. You think nobody’s ever felt the way you do? I gotta listen to your self-indulgent blathering everyday. And shit, that’s painful. Vincent attempted a poor stab at something that resembled a joke.
You never listen to me anyway. Plashuk’s voice brimmed over with indignance.
It’s not you I’m wanting to listen to. Sometimes I just wish you would shut up and stop distracting me from what we’re supposed to be doing. This dwelling in self-obsession…it’s a waste. A waste of the very fact you exist at all! You could be, I don’t know, using your eyes to find food or shelter for us…use your night goggle vision to protect us! Fuck man, you could hang off my neck all day appreciating what Nature gives us. Look at these paintings! And instead of whining, try focusing on…love…selflessness, kindness, whatever! Why don’t you use that mouth of yours for singing? It’s been a long time since I heard a song. You don’t know, you might be good at it.
Closing his eyes briefly, Vincent exhaled an apology. I’m sorry. It’s not your fault. I hope you’re understanding me though. Sometime I just wish you would pay attention to what’s right in front of you. He scooped up some more water in his hands and washed their faces. They took their final sips from the lake and refilled the Tupperware before making their way back up to the surface.
It was already nightfall. The sky – a thick rippling blanket of spider silk, stringing the entire cosmos together, folded over and over and over like the hypnotic coils of a snake in a basket – slammed Vincent to the ground and wrapped him cosily in his bed in an instant.
As Dawn reached out her rosy fingers, the embers from the night fizzled soft in the hearth. Almonds and blackberries on the morning menu.
After leaving the valley, Vincent embarked on his usual tour of the Island. He approached the wall. Looked it up and down. And proceeded to walk around it. In doing so, he stumbled upon a pack of kids. Mutant kids. About eleven of them. They were lobbing rocks at the wall, pulling parts from it, attempting to kick their way through. This was not unusual. Yet today was different.
A small mutant boy of scaly complexion slid out from a crack in the wall.
Nervous. Excited. Blood pumped round Vincent’s heart into his ears. He looked to Plashuk, dumbstruck. A mirrored expression gawked back at him. The kids filed through, the tail end of them gesturing at him.
Check this out!
Shaky at first, Vincent found his feet striding long and fast. It was funny but, in Vincent’s experiences, the kids were always much more accommodating than mutant adults. Less out for themselves, he thought, less lonely and more about banding together. Kids of all ages stuck together. None of them gave a fuck in this world that didn’t give a fuck. The kids hung around in large groups, darting though the unfriendly environment like shoals of fish. Rubbish and sun-scorched concrete, clay and metals from thousands of years ago were of value to them. They felt an affinity with the peculiar objects and bric-a-brac that revealed themselves amongst the rubble. They spent their days playing, creating, building, making life better together. And now, they had brought down the wall – even ever so slightly – had chipped away at the barrier that had pushed them to brink of insanity and back again.
As Vincent approached what remained of the squad, one of them faced him.
I am now the King of this land. He proclaimed with a large withered branch, bringing it down in front of him like a sceptre. He looked about seven years old. His face was pug-like, complete with doleful puppy dog eyes. His body, more muscular and squat than his young friends, had two arms protruding from either side of his torso.
You seem alright for an old dude. You’re allowed in. Pointing his stick towards the not-so-grand gateway. The last of the mutant kids passed across to the other side of the wall.
Vincent’s chest expanded as he inhaled a deep breath of chilled, polluted air. Inhale. Exhale. He could hear the incessant hum of the city drone on. Through the hole in the wall, he could see the light flicker and hush to no end. A shiver slithered up his spine and across his shoulders. He rolled them back and shook away his fear. Vincent took side steps through the hole, compressed front and back. Inhale. Exhale. Thick, thick wall. Metres thick. Dust and creepy crawlies on all sides. He edged closer and closer to the light. He made it through. Inhale. The sun danced behind his eyelids in flying colours and the roar deafened his ears. A thick, thick sound. He blinked, face towards the ground. He stared at his boots, planted in a sandy road. The road stretched out and around, overlooking the city.
The city gasped in the centre. Vincent stood on the mouth of what seemed to be a crater. The outline of its towers like a heartbeat flatline; up and down in the litless shade of a cage. All along the inside of the wall urban paintings encircled, confronting civilisation with the expression of itself. Unlike the sacred cave paintings, these were no animals. But Vincent still wondered what they meant.
Skeletal glyphs and scriptures screamed from the wall. They were round and wide to angular and slender, clustered closely together in conversation. Each successor had contributed meaning with every stroke, envisioning a collective identity of humanity. Vincent’s eyes passed over the wall of documents, processing change. It was as if people were coming to terms with themselves all over again, and the situation in which they found themselves. There was an element of longing trapped in the harmony of letters. And yet also, the angsty recognition of the unduly lamentable forces in their world. The emotions were visceral and raw. They demanded to be heard. They proclaimed their names to the city in uproar. What beauty surrounded them? What was it they loved? Such liveliness gave character to the grey.
But the people? There were none. From his view, Vincent could tell there was no one. Not a soul remained. He could not hear their hearts murmuring from their boxy rooms and cars. Instead, the buzzing that he had assumed was the steady symphony of modern life belonged to the bees. Millions upon millions upon millions of bees spasmed through the air like fluorescent lights. They flew disorganised in all directions. Vincent swayed over their chaotic haze. He laughed. Laughed and laughed. An ecstatic lunatic kind of laugh. He looked at Plashuk. Also infected with laughter. Finally as one, united by laughter in the buzzing madness of the early afternoon.