Green Skies

Green Skies

Gibbons Gazette, Editor

Before we start this story, the entirety of the Gazette would like to congratulate the author of this short story, Spencer Garrison, for receiving a Silver Key at the Scholastic Writing Awards. This is the piece that he submitted to the competition, which he spent two months writing. Please enjoy this story Green Skies by Spencer Garrison

Green Skies

   I can tell you what it was like to wake up on a day with green skies, and I can tell you just about everything that happened on this day in particular, if you’re ready to hear it. 

It started off like any other day, I woke up to a stark white light that pried under my eyelids and forced me out of comfort and into the world. I stumbled out of my suspension pod and neglected legs buckled under me, like a newborn foal’s. I grabbed a towel from the rack which had presented itself towards me and tousled my slimy curls, straining the fluid from my suspension pod out of my coarse black hair. The rack perfunctorily took back my towel before it retreated back into the wall. I sat down on a featureless white stool, and gulped down my mushy breakfast at a white table, which was equally featureless. When I’d finished letting the nutrients slide down my throat, I stood up and let MELINDA recycle the remains of breakfast. I parted ways with the table while it retracted into the wall.
There was a wisp of a thought that I could leave the room for the day, and having nothing else to do, I acted on it.
It’s kind of silly, but before I left, I spent a few minutes looking at my parent’s and brother’s pods. I thought for a moment, maybe I should wake them up, but they probably wouldn’t care. I rapped on the glass anyway, and the AI, MELINDA, scolded me.
I loped out the door.
When I emerged, I was in a steel, hermetically sealed, white tube. The lights took a few seconds to brighten to full capacity, startled that someone had actually required their services.
I sighed, looking around, and started milling about, searching for stimuli. For a few seconds, I considered going back to sleep, but I saw something unexpected. Like a drop of blood in water, a red steel door broke up the monotony of the colorless walls. I cautiously crept up and cracked the door open.

   How had I never noticed that?

To my surprise, the door gave way to a long corridor. Inside, cracked, dull, concrete was revealed by a pale and flickering fluorescent light.
There was a fluttering in my chest as I felt myself drawn over the threshold by some invisible curiosity. Bit by bit, I crept down the hall, until I found another door looming over me at the end. I asked MELINDA what I was facing, and waited a moment for her to reply, but heard nothing. Her signal couldn’t reach me here, ahead was the unknown.
I took a breath, shoved the door open, and a whole new world washed over me.
A blinding light slapped me in the face: I forced myself to see.
Flowing over me, was the sight of rolling green hills like waves in the ocean. Dark verdant grass reached for my ankles and tickled them before just as wispily rolling away, taken by the wind. A pale yellow tint fell over every sight in my gaze and the air seemed to thrum with warm, steady energy. Finally, as I looked up, I noticed that the sky was green.

   She interrupts me, “why?” It’s surprising because it’s the first time that she’s made so much as a whisper since I began my story. “It’s always been blue, right?
   Her voice rings with an uncertain quality, as if the sound is coming from all around and inside of me. It is the most perplexing thing ever for me.
   “I’m not sure,” I tell her, for I had never seen the sky before.

The sight of this jade aether sent a spike of ice through my stomach. I’d never seen the sky, only heard of it. I almost raised my arm up to the sky to fold it between my fingertips. Again, I tried to call MELINDA, but, again, nothing happened.
I sat down in the grass. I took a deep breath in and sighed out. It was so quiet. The soft breeze stroked my ears. The whole scene just kept… rolling, rolling past me. I started smiling, laughing. I don’t know why, but I was so happy. I had just one sadness: how could I have never known this place existed?

   It comes to my attention that the woman, or rather, the fractal-like, rainbow-hued figure in front of me, is drawn in in rapt attention. Despite the fact that she is some being beyond me, she is entranced in my little story. 
   She notices my pause and urges me to keep talking, butterfly-like wings fluttering while she gestures.

I got to my feet after just a bit more time on the hill. I wanted to explore and take in as much of this world as possible. I picked my way down the smooth slope of the hill I’d come out atop of. I saw that everywhere I turned, all I saw was more serene, rolling land.       That, and clouds in the distance, walls of them. Behind those was nothing but green skies. I think I must have drunk those sights in for hours. Every glance was a new, captivating discovery which I felt was impossible to bore from.
Drifting in my reverie, I came upon something jarring. Outside of the usual fantasy scenery, an old man and a wooden rocking chair.
The man’s chair was nondescript, but not as brutally simple as the rest of the “furniture” I’d seen in my life. The most interesting thing about this chair was still that it was wood. More interesting than that chair, was the man sitting in it. From where I stood he couldn’t see me, I could see the back of his head only. Mottled patches of rank, peach-colored, skin, were stretched taught against a bony scalp. It was a peculiar sight. I had never seen anyone who looked over the age of 30. My curiosity ordered that I had to approach the man.
Before I knew it, I was standing behind his chair in an empty field, save for the swaying grass. “Hello,” I said, I stammered a little. I realized I hadn’t thought of anything to say, “Um, who are you?”
Lethargically, he turned his eye to me, a corner of his face peeking over his shoulder. He huffed, “Who are you?” With trepidation, he returned his eyes back to the yellow clouds.
“My name is Julia, I am 12 years old and I live underground. I’ve never come up here before, and I don’t know anyone else who has. So, who are you?”
“You’ve never seen anyone else up here? Eh, figures. No one cares about the surface anymore. It’s a miracle that you aren’t wasting away in the ground.” He huffed, sharply, and turned his gaze to me again. With a sense of righteousness, he said, “Not many people come up here to look around anymore, they don’t care, or know how to care.”
I didn’t know what to say to that. What was this man even talking about, and why had he dodged my question twice?
His beady pupils made a slow trot around his sclera as he, I can only assume, considered me as I stood before him. To me, he was an arrogant and nosy creature, but I was somehow drawn to him. This new nonsensical thing.
Ignoring everything else, I said, “Who are you?” flatly.
He took a moment to look at the horizon from his arm chair. With a clenched jaw and incredulous eyes, he gazed into the misty distance. Just, green. I think maybe he saw something out there, something I didn’t.
I gazed too.
Leviathan hills gave way into more leviathan hills, lumpy green spines of the earth coiling out of the ground. The only limit to my perception of their vastness was the amber fog that thickened the further out it got. A cloud structure that was verdant and yellow crackled with tendrils of lightning.
I found out that in my thinking, I peered past the horizon and into myself. All my life, I was living underneath all of this? Something started to work its way up inside of me, a tendril of some alien feeling, wrapping its way around my heart, twisting my stomach, and coiling around my lungs.
I felt that my heart was beating faster. The vastness of the clouds and fog and hills pressed right up against me, smothering me like a weighted blanket. It was so vivid. I don’t really know how to describe it, except that I felt like nothing. But there was something else in that nothingness: the feeling which had been right beside me my whole journey: ”I want to see more. I want to learn more.”

   Was this what he meant? Was this what we were missing out on? 

When I had almost forgotten he was there, the man found what he was looking for in the fog: a memory. Solemnly he said, “I am an old timer, a bitter one. When the technology that stopped aging came around, I was alive, and that was almost too long ago to remember. I hoped… I thought that such a thing would be a miracle, and I was so happy to see all the life that I… I was so excited to see boundless potential and limitless vitality.”
“But I was so wrong,” he said, “For some reason, everyone abandoned the world. They abandoned me, they could live forever so, ‘Why not sleep?’. As everyone drifted away underground, the cities up here fell to ruin, and now it’s all gone. I haven’t seen anyone but me come up for so many years. It’s all just grass and green skies.” He looked at me, and for the first time in our interaction, I could see in his eyes, an earnest warmth. “That is, except for you. Can you live for me, Julia? Can you not turn your eyes away from your curiosity, your ambition, your love for the world, and live for me? When you go home, I want you to live for days with green skies. I cannot bear to be so lonely. Give life a little company.”
I sunk into the grass beside the man’s chair, with my knees hugged to my chest and my chin resting on them subsequently. What a strange conversation. But, what he said, it was what I wanted to do.
The truth revealed itself to me, I did. So, I said, “Yes. I want to live.”
I noticed tears welling in my eyes when I said this, if only I had recognized that sooner.
Of course, he understood. But it was something he didn’t need to tell me, and I didn’t need to hear, because for every tear of regret, I cried two of happiness and relief. I suddenly realized that I desperately wanted to be close to my family, I wanted to wake them up.

   “Then, how did you end up here? How did you get to me?” 
   I look around, or rather, I try to look around, the place that we are in. As far as I can tell, it’s an empty void. A little bit black, a little bit white, it’s dizzying, but it’s easier than answering. I ignore the question.

I dizzily made my way back home, picking through the haze of the late day. Although in a bit of a stupor, I took the old man’s advice into consideration. Everywhere I walked, I felt a feverish appreciation for the existence of things, not just enjoying them, but understanding them, myself. Nothing could go wrong, I was euphoric.
When I saw the red steel door that meant home, I took off into a sprint, and as I drifted through the grand concrete hallway, I paid no mind to the dinginess of the walls or the flickering of the light.
Weightless and happy, I crossed the threshold into my warren and a mechanical whir surrounded me. A digital chirp signaled that MELINDA had noticed I was back. I tried to open a channel with MELINDA, but for some reason, I couldn’t. I tried again, my nanites just weren’t taking my signal. That’s strange, I thought.
Before I could think about that anymore, I heard MELINDA’s familiar voice over loudspeaker, “Julia! You’re in danger!.”
“What?” The hollow in my stomach reopened itself. What was she talking about?
“You require immediate care, Julia. I cannot read your vitals, 98% of your nanites have been decommissioned. The remaining 2% say that you have been exposed to 38 sieverts of radiation. I don’t know if I can help you, child.”
“E-exposed? What are you talking about!?” I felt sick. My legs tingled with weakness and my heart beat too fast for me to keep up with. I was shaking all over. I was shaking so much. I didn’t know if I could stand, it was all too much. Too much for me. I put my hand on the wall to steady myself, only now realizing how faint it felt. In a too high, too loud voice, I said, “MELINDA, elaborate. Please!”
“Julia, I am currently attempting to restore the power to the nanites in your bloodstream. The previous 78 attempts have been unsuccessful. Your situation looks dire, Julia. I’m sorry, but unless I am able to bring the nanites online, you will be irrecoverable.”
“No, no, no, that’s not fair. You can’t just- just tell me that. Don’t- Just-” I sobbed, I was breaking, “Please”.
How could Melinda say that, I thought, how dare she? She was being cruel. It wasn’t fair. Damn it all. I broke down against the cold, unforgiving, steel wall. Its overbearing whiteness overwhelmed me, and I wanted to tear it down. What the hell? Why was this happening? Every heartbeat seemed to shake my body with the force of an earthquake, and I wished I could slow it down, because I was pretty sure I was now a fragile little ornament that would shatter into a million pieces if it got shook too hard. I was too afraid to move, maybe if I was too small to notice it would all go away, and I could go back to normal. I just needed to survive.
My soul was screaming.
Don’t let this be it.
Don’t let me lose it all!
But it was no use.
I wilted in the face of terror.
I think I might have stayed wallowing in a corner forever if it wasn’t for what I heard MELINDA say next.
She told me, “I’m so sorry Julia. Your life support is completely offline. Is there anything you would like to do?”
“What can I do,” I thought. I was about to say it, when in my head, I saw that old man talking to me, standinf right in front of me. He wanted me to live, and for as long as I could I would. He said, “Julia, you can’t choose if you’ll die or not, but you can live. Now. Go.”
Maybe I was hallucinating from the radiation.
I was still crying. Tears pitter-pattered down onto the floor. But I felt stronger.
How tragic, I thought, that I was going to die the day I started living.
I didn’t feel too angry about it. Maybe I would if I’d had the time to, but I didn’t. I wasn’t sure how far I’d be able to make it, but I knew what I wanted to do with my life.
I carried myself down the same hallway, I still felt alright, except for I was kind of floating in my own body.
I barely registered it when I collapsed on a hill outside my warren. None of the movement nor the time it took me to get there. Only the soft tongues of grass, the warm thick air, and that green sky that I was looking into.

   Her eyes are still wide, not just with wonder now, but with realization.
  “That’s where I found you,” she says.
   I nod at her and say “yes you did.” with my eyes.
   Still uncertain with her voice, she says: “I found you on that hill, lying with your smiling face, towards the sky, and I took you with me, bringing you here.”
   “And what is this place?” I ask.
   “I’m not sure, all I know is that I am certain it does not exist, and I am certain that I am here for a purpose.” She ruffles herself, “I think I’m here to shepard the dead, and I think you’re to take my place.”
   “Excuse me?”
   “Well, before me, there was another person doing the same thing, and he gave me his job, so he could ‘rejoin the universe’”.
   “You’ll… stop existing if you give me your job?” I incredulously ask. 
   “It’s not like that, I’ll just become what I always have been. Maybe stardust, maybe earth, maybe something else, I just won’t be as conscious as I am now.”
   “Isn’t that scary?”
   “It’s comforting.”
   I understand.
   “So, this is it, Julia. I’m glad to have met you and I trust you. Goodbye.”
Before I can react, she clasps my hand and I’m filled with a rushing sense of enlightenment. For a moment, I can see that she was a normal girl like me once, but from some time long before, and then she is gone, faded to elementary particles. I feel myself, transform at some atomic level, I rise beyond anything I have ever known before and I feel peace throughout me.
   Days with green skies, those are the days where anything can happen, those are the days worth living for. Those days with an electrostatic charge in the air, where your hair raises and you just know, anything can happen. 
   I lived for green skies, and it was worth every second.