Note: A prequel to The End.
I have never seen the sky before.
Oh, look. Another lie. I can’t seem to outrun them, even though I am physically fleeing my past. Maybe I have to run farther? Faster?
But it isn’t that bad of a lie. It’s pretty close to the truth. In my earliest memories, I cannot distinguish between the sky and the ceiling of the compound I lived in. Maybe I saw it then—I’m sure I did. I can’t believe that I never saw one speck of it without windows in the way. That’s a lie too, though. I do believe that such a thing is possible. I’ve watched babies be born and grow up, cloistered every second behind cement walls.
But me? Surely not. I hope not. I suppose it doesn’t really matter. I’m out now, and I see it now.
It’s really not that impressive. It’s no different from what it looks like through glass except that out here, beneath its yawning blankness, it’s so big. I imagine it reaching down in great, smokey, swirling tendrils, tearing me off this solid ground and hurling me into oblivion. Despite the heat zinging through my veins and coating my skin in sweat, I shiver.
Heat. Sweat. Reality comes rushing back, and I forget about the grey expanse hovering over me. Slap. Slap. Slap. My feet slam against the pavement as I dash down the streets. I know I shouldn’t look over my shoulder because it’ll slow me down, but I have to know if they’re following me …
I’ll hear them, of course. But, no, that’s not true, because I’m breathing so heavily that the sound of my rasps drowns out all other sounds. I’m a horrible escapist.
Ugh. That’s not true either. You may not believe me, but I’ve escaped from them twice already. And you really may not believe this, but they didn’t catch me. They didn’t have to. I did all the work for them, like they knew I would.
I turned myself in. Both times.
Just—do you know what it’s like? To leave, voluntarily, everything you’ve ever known? They are—they were—my life. My family, though I won’t tell you that I never had a real one, because that might be a lie. When I was younger, I would never have even thought about abandoning them. They are right. They are protecting us. It’s them against this vicious world.
Do you know what it’s like to have that embedded in your mind, so deep you can’t dig it out without causing yourself to bleed? It’s written in my veins, their words a truth pulsing with every beat of my heart.
Of course, I am not good at judging truth.
But can you imagine, even a little bit, what it’s like to leave them? I cannot even remember my years before them.
Slap. Slap. Slap. Skid around a corner, gravel flying, some burying itself in my eyes. My throat is raw, and my labored breaths make me sound like I’m dying. Which I might be. I have never run this far, and I’m having trouble seeing. Not that there’s much to see—it’s all grey nothingness, grey, grey, grey forever.
Fine. I’ll admit it. I was lying—again. I do remember the years before them. Just the tiniest bit, but it’s seared even deeper than their whispered truths.
I remember—I’ve never told anyone this, they’d kill me, they’d—I don’t even know what they’d do—I do know, stop lying!—but lying is a truth to them—what is truth? It feels like blood is filling my lungs, and blood definitely coats my legs from where they’ve scraped the ground at a too-sharp turn.
The world tilts, and I stagger on, hands outstretched because I can’t tell any longer which way is up or down. My eyes are open, I think, but I see nothing but a blur. It might be tears or sweat or just a figment of my imagination that fills them.
Somehow physical blindness opens the eyes of your heart, because running through my mind now are the words—
A woman. Nondescript hair in a knot. That is all I can picture about her appearance. But her words …
I remember her words. Did you know? she’d ask, stroking my hair. Did you know that the sky was once blue?
Blue? I didn’t believe it then. Or did I?
Is that a secret? I would ask.
No, she’d answer, laughing. Then her face would sober, and she said something I only understand now: But some people want it to be.
Now I am running—slap slap slap—or trying to, dying, in this last escape—because of course it is my last; not only will they catch me this time, but I cannot try again. Three times. If three times fail, it’s over. You have to get it in three tries. So I am running, desperate, and I am wondering: Those people, who want to keep the blue sky a secret—
Is it them?
If you had asked me just a week ago if I thought they were right, I’d say yes. They spoke truth. I believed it. But now I cannot even name one truth of theirs, all their words buried in a fog as grey and dead as the sky above.
Good Deeps, this whole time have I been working against the blue?
I finally hear the thuds I have been dreading, and I realize that I can hear them because I have stopped. I have collapsed against the wall—shoulder bleeding now—and I shudder at this lie I have told myself.
The lie that I didn’t know. That I didn’t know what I was doing. That it was all them, infecting me, me the victim.
By the Blue itself, I had known!
But it was one lie too many. I had lied to myself one day too long. And now they had caught me. I would spend the rest of my life killing both myself and others for the lies.
A hand grabs my arm. It pulls at my raw shoulder, and the shock of the pain is enough to wake me up for one moment.
“Stop,” I rasp.
“Do you want truth?” a voice asks. A voice I have never heard. The thuds jar me, coming closer, closer.
“… Blue,” I whisper back.
I am yanked up, and my eyes clear just enough to see a face. Blue eyes. Like the sky.
“My name is Jim,” the owner of the blue eyes says, and his lopsided smile is like a ray from the sun we never see. “My name is Jim, and it is time for you to escape. For real.”
“From the lies?” I ask. He is pulling me, I think—are we running? We are moving somehow, but his eyes do not waver from mine.
“Yes,” he says. “From the lies.”
“Into … what?”
“Into the truth, of course.” He grins. Then he leans close and whispers, “Because it’s true, you know. The sky is blue. Want to help me rescue it?”