We’re colors, all of us. They call me Pink. I don’t look pink, not in any way you would perceive; but then, if you and I were to meet by any twist of fate, you wouldn't be looking upon my face. The hood, the mask, the oxygen breather within, it all hides me, my nose, my eyes, my mouth. The air is too dangerous, you see. Can’t let any of it in. Not that it’s toxic. No, the air has eggs. Eggs that you can’t see, eggs that plant themselves in your lungs.
I saw a Hatching once. I was small, still thinking I had a chance, a way out of this place. The old men told me he wasn't related to me, but I think he might have been. He was nice to me. Might have been my brother, I don’t know. I was stupefied when it happened, what with all the blood and the pus, pieces of bone. The other children busied themselves stamping on the little bastards, squirming all over the floor, and I remember just standing there, waiting for the wound to close.
I live in a dark place. A little boy cries in the room next to me every night, every single night, and I know the room is empty. It’s been empty for years. I've never tried talking to him, making him see reason, asking him who the hell he even is. It’s not my place. I live in my room, a small, dusty place with a few odds and ends. The walls are lined with blue microfilm, and the vents have three layers of home-made filters, so it’s about the only place where I can take my mask off. There’s a bed, an old one. It’s had some kind of brush with radiation in the past, and my Geiger counter keeps freaking out near it. It’s the most comfortable thing you’ll find in the entire Area though. A small drum, empty, overturned, made into a table. It’s where I clean my guns. And the telephone on the wall. Of course, the telephone.
Not much else. I go out sometimes, to see the sun rise. There’s this lake, this giant, giant calm spread of green, doesn't have a name like everything else. I go there sometimes to sit by the side and watch a green sunrise. At times I get so lost in my thoughts, thoughts of nothingness, really, that I stay there until dusk, and then I have to run back before the Creepers come out. I used to think the Area was blue in color for a full four years until one of my eyepieces broke; and I realized the glass had an azure tint to it. Now I see the place in all its glory, and it’s a shithole. Don’t get me wrong, the romantic would find a kind of love for this desolation, but I assure you, there is none, really.
There are no baths, for starters. Your skin gets pastier and pastier, yellows, and then becomes used to the condition. You treat the boils with a razor, don’t want them to affect your run. We run a lot. On most days White and I take the long road at a run. We go over the bridge, down the broken highway and through the stone college grounds. We avoid the underpass, and on bad days take a breather near the gas station. Then onward, cutting a long curve with the forested pathway, back to the place near the motels, and onto the broken highway again, making it back home before dusk. We laugh about it in the mess hall, looking at the old men in wonder and ridicule as they shove food into their gas masks. The Colors don’t need to eat. We used to drink, and now it’s a syringe. Can’t imagine how messy it must be, having to chew, move your tongue around the food and everything. They say they had food that used to smell good, made you want to eat it; but then the old men say just about anything if somebody’s listening.
Like how it used to be safer. Maroon was taken by the Creepers last month, and that got the old men murmuring like they do. We hate them, the damned Creepers, we wanted war, but of course we don’t have enough ammunition. They never send us enough, in their airdrops. Sometimes I think they have it calculated right down to the bullet, how much we’ll need. I had never seen Maroon’s face, of course, but I liked her. She had a way with jokes, made you think of better things, better places. We had cheated death before; once the pack had chased us down near the gas station. We weren't prepared for it, but we improvised. No bullets were fired, and yet all three of us had survived, all thanks to some abandoned tires, a chemical flare, a rag and a strong arm. It was incredible, the rush; and the Colors missed her, me more so. But we knew, as did the old men, that there was no other way, such was the rule.
The Creepers sent the body back, and it was put on display in our hall. Everyone looked away, everyone but me. I looked at her face for the first time, at what was left of it. And right there, in the Hall of Silence, where another half-eaten body had come to join the rest of the old skeletons, I trembled with rage, with seething promises of revenge and gory fantasies of murder. I shook with silent fury as I saw that she had once been beautiful.
The Creepers are as untouchable as ever. Since Maroon’s murder I’ve often felt the need to stay back after dark, wait for them to crawl out, wait with a machine gun and all the ammunition I can steal. It’s been three years. Stolen seventy-four rounds. Not nearly enough. I keep at it.
The boy keeps crying, even when I prance my flashlight around the bare walls. A luxury. Our electricity is dying. The old men are making wax, but goodness knows we’ll never have enough. We won’t be safe without our lights and we know it; the beam wall is all that stand between home and the Creepers. The airdrops are rarer now, and sometimes they joke around; send down a crate filled with newspapers or empty plastic bottles. Sick sense of humor, unloading more trash when we’ve already got mountains, endless hills of plastic bottles, broken computers, all the things the earth won’t take in. There’s also been talk of trying to shoot an aircraft down, but we all know we’re not that bold. The Creepers are there because they’re meant to be our enemies, we shouldn't be making any more.
The days keep passing. White and I keep running, trying to outrun this place, this dark place where old men have fathered me, a place slowly dipping into darkness once more. There are rumors of some kind of God beast on the loose, sightings of a misshapen slithering monstrosity; we’ve been urged to be careful. Another old man died today. I’m bleeding again, and am stealing bandages along with the bullets. The little boy cries all the time now, and if he was real I would waste a bullet just to shut him up. The electricity is flickering on most days now. The lamps are being distributed. Oil and wax. On our last night of electricity, the phone rings.
I have been prepared for this call. I know what it means. And I have waiting for it all my life.
I pick up the phone and talk to my parents for the first time. They cry and apologize again and again, they tell me they’re sorry so many times. They didn't mean this life for me. This place. I try to talk, but the words well up. I can’t, simply can’t. The tears fall, and freely. They tell me there will be no more airplanes, nothing. They tell me again that they love me. They tell me not to give up. The call disconnects as the lights go out.
Silence, a dull tremor as people talk in hushed voices. An old man, trying to rally everyone. And then the distant cries, the howls of the Creepers, travelling, echoing over us, through our corridors and rooms. The Colors don’t need rallying. Everyone has talked on the phone, our purpose, it’s done. We’re just soldiers now, and the Creepers are coming. White and Red wait for me outside my room. I nod, grab my gun, all the bullets, all of them, and head out into the darkest place in the world.
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