Malachite – Chapter 3 – Outward Bound

A modern Christopher Columbus? Gulliver? I hope the natives are friendly. He shuddered again: from what he had read, there wouldn’t be any “natives,” and if there was anything On Top, whatever it was wouldn’t be friendly – that’s why he grew up underground, that’s why everyone he knew had been born underground, lived underground, and died underground. Nothing On Top was friendly. Good to remember.

He started digging in the stinking mud, fashioning a shallow grave. Finally, content that it was deep enough – Surely this is deep enough? – he lay down and pulled the piles of mud on top of his shoes, his legs, his torso. So, what do I do about my face? Good question. He sat up, and pulled his t-shirt off. Lying back down, he made a tent over his face by holding the thin material just off his face. Feels like I’m finally going to drown. He took one last look at the river, and closed his eyes. Did the girls make it this far? And what happened to them – what was the noise that made them split up? Do I try to return? And how do I do that? Do I sit here? And for how long, a week? Do I try to find The City, and Jade? Well, that’s why this journey began, right? Had he been able to stay awake, he might have come up with some very discouraging answers.

As the sun went down, the drop in temperature woke him. Trying to move, he discovered that the t-shirt had been baked solid and his arms had gone numb. He also discovered that he had pointed his feet facing the rising sun, so his head faced the setting sun; his right arm, therefore, pointed south. And nobody around to notice how clever I am. Pushing up the hard shell of the t-shirt, he tried to sit up. Not so fast! He beat the baked clay that covered his body into shards and looked south and found a landmark – a knob of a hill on a ridge in the distance was still visible in the twilight. Twilight? I guess I have survived my First Day on the surface? He looked around. Well, I’m here, I might as well get on with it. He began walking. He started to shiver. Wow! Not used to this cold! To where, he could not guess; but there was no shelter here on this flood plain. Dunno what I’m going to do when the sun comes back up.

He walked all night. He couldn’t navigate by the stars because, not ever having seen stars before, he didn’t know how. At least, for his subterranean eyes, the night didn’t get all that dark. Piss poor planning, pal. And he was thirsty. He walked and walked – for hours and hours – and it just now hit him that he had no water and no food. Great: no water. So, I guess I have about a week, tops, before I go nuts and die. Might as well enjoy the sights while I can. He looked around for a place to lie down for awhile. His best traveling would be at night. At night, when he could use his eyes without having to squint and shield them. At night, when he could use his ears. At night, when smells were sharpest. At least he was dry; that was something.

+++

He laid down and tried to make himself a little comfortable on the rocky soil. It wasn’t really sand; rather, very small stones. But, he managed. He stared up at the last of the stars in the pre-dawn sky and eventually closed his eyes. And dreamed. Dreamed of a scene from a movie. Must have been from a movie, for he dreamed of a very large, gray ship pulling away from a dock. On board was a young man in a military uniform, on the dock was a young woman holding a very young girl in her arms. Clearly from a movie; but which one, and why, and why now?

Malachite had survived his first day and night in this new world on the surface of the venerable old globe of the Earth.

Again, the sky began to lighten, over there – and he was out in the open. Keep the morning sun on my left? Well, why not? He had nothing else to go on. He had to find shelter – any kind of shelter. I should not be out here in the sun! I should be hiding from it! He quickly became warm, then hot. Wish I had some clothes on. A lot of clothes. As the mud flaked off, he noticed that it had stained his skin. Maybe a good thing? There were people in the settlement whose blood was definitely from darker stock, maybe they would fare better up here? Didn’t much matter now: his skin was so white it was almost pink. And, if he didn’t get out of the sun, and very soon, he would go blind – if his skin didn’t peel off, first. But, the further away from the river that he walked in search of shelter, the further away from drinking water he got. It was a toss-up: die from the sun, or die from thirst. He had no idea which was better.

The climbing sun, forced him to trade the “too cold” of night for the “too hot” of day. Too hot and too bright. He stood still and closed his eyes. Still too bright. He covered his eyes with his hands and

felt the sun attack the skin on the back of his hands and arms. Definitely damned if I do, and damned if I don’t. Opening his eyes beneath his hands, he began walking again. Eyes that could penetrate the eternal darkness of the subterranean world he lived in. Had lived in. Eyes that could not possibly handle the sun’s brightness, even on a cloudy day. So, he searched for shelter; he felt instinctively that, as useless as eyes were down below, they were absolutely essential here on top.

He had walked far enough away from the river to see some sort of plants (or what he thought must be plants) in the distance. He couldn’t stay where he was, as the sun rose higher and higher against a brilliant blue sky. So, he noted where the sun had come from, rotated his head 90 degrees and found a landmark in the distance. I guess that’s south? He found himself scratching the spots on his skin that the sun was not so slowly destroying.

How far have I gone? Does it matter? Where am I, anyway? Or, am I someplace at all? Without any hope of surviving, he was really more of a tourist, looking at all the strange and mysterious sights; for everything he could see was new to him. In fact, everything he could see would have been new to anybody who might have also been walking there. In fact, he was the first human being to walk there in a hundred years. Native or otherwise.

He made the scrub brush, about waist high, as the sun was setting. A brilliant sunset with every hue in the red end of the spectrum. His first, vibrant, painfully vibrant colors. Down there – what used to be home – there were no colors, not really. Just various shades of gray. And not many of those. His growling stomach reminded him that he hadn’t eaten anything since, since when? And, he was already getting cold again.

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