‘Causeway’, A.J. Fitzwater

Illustrations © 2015 Pandalion Death

 [ Inside, © 2015, Pandalion Death ] They’ve got the colours wrong.

Not too wrong. Just wrong enough that it might make one forget what the real sky and ocean looked like.

Maybe they don’t see colour like we did, or maybe they can’t be bothered with that end of the spectrum. Too yester-millennia.

Already I’m beginning to forget. I have to close my eyes and force myself to remember, or look at the pictures they’ve deemed appropriate. But it’s getting harder as every day passes.

If it is a day that passes. They might have got time wrong too, though they shouldn’t. That one is immutable, right? Who knows, they hold all the cards. It might be a day, just not as I know it.

Who are they?

Questions. Always the questions.

I’ll just sit here, feet dangling off the end of the pier. Don’t know how long it’s been today, how long I’ve been here. Good thing about this slightly over-blue sky and under-yellow sun: no sunburn. All heat and no kitchen.

I’ve been sitting here long enough to come up with all sorts of interesting ideas, some they might even call crazy. But some aren’t. And really, nothing could be more far-fetched than the actuality of being here.

Who flinched first, us or them? I forget lots about Before—gratefully, wisely, which is why it’s such a struggle to drag it up—but that’s one thing I don’t. Still chewing that one over.

Left foot skim the water, us. Skim with the right, them. Left, us. Right, them. Back, forth, kick, kick at the too dark water.

That is, if it is real water. They’ve never told me. Not anything. This wetness, my hunger, my bowel movements, my sleeping, this everything I do and don’t want to feel, it could all just be muscle memory, and the only muscle I’ve got left is my brain.

It’s broken others, but I don’t want to talk about them just yet. I don’t remember them much. Do I like being alone? Yes. No. Maybe? Should I?

Too many questions, so I’m just gonna sit for a while. It’s pleasant enough if I don’t think too hard and don’t look too far.

But you’re going to take my pleasant away, aren’t you. You’ve been back there for a while, I felt you come. It was all light before you arrived, now it’s heavy. The same heaviness when there used to be others, in the other house on stilts, opposite mine. Heavy with breath and expectation, heavy with thought and stink of sweat.

Heavy with your disappointment.

I’m sorry, I’m not your messiah. I can’t help that my mind is a mess. They left us this way and I don’t have, maybe never will have, your answers.

I’ll wait here, kick kick, while you get over your initial confusion. You’ll figure me out, your cell mate, or think you have, soon enough. You’ll get used to this place, maybe even come to like it. That will fade, believe me.

Feet on wood. It’s not wood, not really. It’s better not to think about it too hard.

Goodness me, you are tall. Getting a crick in my neck. Blonde hair, blue eyes, polite but strained smile. I’ve seen you somewhere before. Wait, it’ll come to me if or when necessary. No need to be so precious, give it time.

Don’t panic, you have plenty of that at your disposal. I’ve had many pass through here who thought too much of themselves once they realized just what was what.

They’re all gone away. Dead, I suppose.

They brought it all on themselves. I only did what I had to defend myself, nothing more.

Let’s sort through more of those inevitable questions: my name is Ita, I don’t know where we are, but this is not Earth. The home you once knew was a sham, a fake, it’s gone. Before you arrived you were dead, asleep, a bunch of cells, who knows. And no, I don’t know who keeps us here; I’ve never seen or spoken to them.

Pleased to meet you Julian.

There now, you’re looking all confused and a little miffed. Oh of course, you wanted to sound like the hero in the movies who asks those questions that spurs everyone to action: Where are we, how can we escape from here, I have rights you know!

You’re funny.

But you smile, you’re a good boy, you think you know when the time is right to be calm or when to make a fuss. I’m glad you recognize I’m not as stupid as I look. It’s the ears and big neck, I know. No fainting flower or hefty boob job here; just relentless, reluctant practicality. Unfortunately, I don’t have the piece of string and chewing gum that will bust us out of here. And no, asking nicely doesn’t work either.

Oh yes, you can ask, for many things. Need a drink to wrap your tongue around while you wrap your head around all this water? Yes, there is a lot of it. All around and never ending, as far as the eye wants to see.

There’s your drink, there on the table just inside the door. Whisky, Scottish, on the rocks.

The house knows what you want even before you do. They’re in our heads. You get used to it after a while and I’m getting better at anticipating it. I almost think we have conversations sometimes. Dreams, meditations, transcendental out-of-body experiences. All that nifty new-age, hippy dippy stuff.


Change of clothes, something to eat, a book? The house will provide. Toilet, shower? Just behind that door. You even have a screen; every movie, TV show, documentary, home movie, news clip at your disposal, all from Before. It’s not bad, as far as incarcerations go. If you miss humanity, there are plenty of gentle reminders how great we were.

Did I say great? I meant terrible.

Personally, I’d rather read.

I have it all too, in my house. Mirror image. But this is my door, and I draw the line right here, mister. Don’t smirk at me like that, I’m serious. You knock and wait if you want to speak to me, don’t come barging in. And don’t expect to be accommodated all that much. My privacy is important, you got that?

You’ll want to think about it, hard. It’s all we have here. That, and the water.

All around.

This sunrise is as real as one wants to make it.

One has to wonder: for the effort they’ve gone to with this place, the effort to keep us full, fit and happy—to a point—why did they get the sun wrong? It’s only a little bit off.

Fit. Now there’s something. None of that low lying, constant pain, none of that blood pressure all over the place like Before. It’s been gone since day one. I’d like to say I’m a new person, but they left me with the funny fingers, the thick neck, this box I came in.

I bet you’re feeling better, a little different. Yes, I know you’re there, no matter how quiet you try to be. Call it intuition if that makes you feel better.

This place changes everyone. It just depends what you do with it.

No thank you, I don’t do caffeine, it makes me jumpy. Best to keep as clear a head as possible.

You slept well. No, that’s a fact. No matter your sleeping habits Before, don’t try to stay awake, don’t fight it, it’s no use here, for eight hours you’re gone. At least the night and day here stick to a schedule. But they want you out for their own reasons.

Sleep better, wake up better. Run the maze, push the bar, get a reward.

Punishment? Goodness, your mind leapt there early. Got something in mind?

You’re not the first to ask. Or to try. I’ll leave you to think that one over. I have my own things to do. Barely made a dent in a history of literature.

You might want to choose a hobby to keep yourself occupied. Just one suggestion, a warning if you want to go there: If you’re into exercise, and I can tell by your moneyed body you are, don’t swim out too far.

I’m walking, walking, walking away, have to get away. It’s been a while and there’s only so much…

Still walking. The two houses they’re… further away than usual. I must have not been thinking about it, I just did it. Plank upon footstep upon plank, I haven’t been able to make the pier longer like this in quite some time, so something has changed.

I’ve told you before; don’t try sneaking up on me. This shouldn’t be that hard.

I’ve found out you’re an educated man, how proud you are of your self-control. Yes, I know of you, by accident really. I was watching a movie the other night—I’m not a one trick pony, you understand—and I saw you.

Of course, this means absolutely nothing, not to me, not to them, not to all this. Your smile, those eyes, won’t get you anywhere.

Unclench those fists.

For all we know we could be on display in some cosmic museum. And even the best anthropologists get some details wrong. Maybe we’re too alien for them to understand.

I don’t want to be here any more than you do, but I’ve made my peace with it, of sorts. I’m comfortable. The freedom I do have is enough, and quite pleasant if you don’t think too hard outside invisible walls. Claustrophobia has never been my thing, except when forced to share.

No one is coming to save us, and even if you did get out of here, what do you expect is beyond that horizon?

For all my rejection of hope, I do fall prey to it in regards to one thing. It’s no coincidence that all my cell mates have been male.

I’m not sure what my captors are expecting to happen. A miracle? I sound like some strange superhero— Monosomy X Girl, to the rescue!—but they haven’t given me back my dropped chromosome. It’s nice to know they think I’m fine the way I am. I’m still as infertile as the day I didn’t hit puberty.

No need to pretend, you’re not shocked. Disappointed maybe; you all come with that inbuilt Adam and Eve complex. Even if I could, I wouldn’t, not with you, not with any of them. What do you expect would happen after a few generations? The inbreeding would kill us, only a little slower. And it’s seriously creepy.

Besides, I’m not your type. I can tell by the way you can’t bring yourself to look at my lack of breasts, or my eyes. You don’t like older women.

To a man, the subject has always been broached. I am not some receptacle for humanity’s hope. I am not the guardian of all things womanhood, your mother, sister, wife or even a friend. I don’t want your labels or expectations. Humanity died the moment we cut our friends a sideways look. Perhaps they were naïve, perhaps we were arrogant. Nothing’s going to change that now.

I’m sick of always having to go there. That’s the only time I feel like some experiment, the amoeba under the microscope. Will he? Won’t he?

And I have to laugh, or run. And then defend. No threat; it’s a promise. I have no compunction about going for the soft spots, and if I don’t he’ll always be waiting outside the next day.

Unless they can’t live with themselves. There’s always that. Always. All around.

Some quit quicker than others. At least two were removed after attempting… no, you’re looking too eager for that story. Back off.

 [ Between, © 2015, Pandalion Death ] To a man, I’m never unhappy to see them go, no matter the circumstances of their leave taking. It’s usually messy.

I refuse to clean up after my captors. Their rats, their maze, their problem.

Of course I’m a pessimist. It’s the only reason I’m still alive and reasonably sane after so long. Yes yes, I know, subjectivity and all that.

Go ahead, be the optimist if it works for you. Stupid, brave, your mileage may vary. Until advised otherwise, our purpose is to endure.

There you go again, looking out to the horizon. No, no one else has ever swum out that far. I only know it’s far enough and deep enough to kill. You can push our friends as far as you like, but I can assure you they’re not going to save you from yourself if you want to do something stupid. Then it’ll be up to me to build the causeway out to come get you.

Watch; it works like this. Hang on, I have to concentrate for a moment, not so good at that.

There they are, coming in from nowhere, ain’t that a trick?

Where’s your pretty tongue now, hmm?

That’s your opinion. I’m still me. It might be just something they taught me, it might be something that’s always been latent in us, waiting for them to come and flick the switch.

Stop. Stop. I’m going in. Shutting the door now.

Shutting the door against eyes that are far too blue.

You’ve been standing outside my closed door a lot lately.

I’ve had to ask for the lock to be put back on. Thankfully, they complied.

Did I say ‘thankfully’? Yes, yes I did.

You’re hurt by that?

I’m shutting my door now.

I hear things breaking at night, but in the morning all is back to rights.

I dare not go outside after full dark.

There are no stars at night.

I do so miss my empty sky.

I… I… I…

It’s too quiet now.

The water is too heavy.

Wrong green. All around.

I have myself back to myself. He’s behaving, but there’s always that shiver of expectation, like he’d leap at the chance if I changed my mind. Like he thinks I’m lying to protect myself and he’s being magnanimous by honouring my lie.

There’s no room for all that Before thinking in here. This life, this cell, is not big enough.

He swims a lot. Maybe he thinks it makes him look defiant, brave, virile.

I hate myself, but I can’t help but look.

I hate his blue eyes, his blonde curls, his easy smile, everything I’ve trained myself to be suspicious of.

I’m thinking about it too much. I’ll sit here on the end of the longest causeway I’ve built yet, planks unfolding beneath my feet, posts firmly in place (how far down do they go?), and stare out to the off-blue horizon, trying not to look at him.

It’ll get easier as time goes on, it’ll stop.

Dammit, in an effort not to think about him, I’m thinking about them. Perhaps don’t have bodies, or bodies too far beyond our understanding. Perhaps they’re us, generation to the power of nth.

Don’t think too hard… I’m not scared by that… don’t think too hard…

Open my eyes. The horizon has not moved.

But he’s swum out too far.

I’m holding my breath.

He’s turned around now.

Damn him.

He’s lasted the longest of any of them.

He hasn’t spoken to me in days. This should be a good thing. His thoughts are like a weight on my dreams, and the sky is darker for it, the sea choppier, the pier shorter.

I’m not impressed by the distraction. My mantra is decaying, my resolve nothing but the muck you might find underneath the causeway.

This is not a love song.

I don’t want to like him. He’s arrogant, self-assured, nice, like he’s been told to be, but not like he should be.

Yes, the strain is showing around his smile, or he could be a good actor. Difficult to tell where one ends and the other begins.

In an effort to avoid thinking about him—I just want to read—I’ve been playing around with this thing I can do with their pier. I thought about building it out as far as the horizon but how long is a piece of string?

Some days straight, some days a spiral, around and around the houses, all around and down and down…

He says nothing, just swims under it, an eel, a shark.

Then: a thought. What else can I do? How odd, I’ve never had this kind of thought, not even Before.

So I push at the air, stir at the thick ocean soup, paint with clouds. It’s not easy, takes concentration, and I’m dreadfully out of practise, falling under six feet of reluctance.

But for the first time here I have weather, and that makes it feel a bit more like home.

It is useful. It keeps him out of the water.

Then there’s that weight of his thoughts, which just doesn’t match up. He might not speak to me, but in the glancing passes we dance through he does smile.

It’s a smile that can do damage, it’s a smile that’s all wrong.

Like the sky.

This place has caught him. He sees its edges, cracks in the facade like shadows out the corner of the eyes.

In a way, I feel sorry for him. It’s only a matter of time, and there’s nothing I want to do, or can do.

When his thoughts turn hot and heavy, a star, a ball off gas and fire near death, I stir the ocean just enough so that he must stay inside.

Maybe that’s the wrong thing to do.

Sometimes, just sometimes, I wish they would tell me what I’m supposed to do, why I’m here. Then it passes.

They don’t own me. I don’t believe in destiny.

I’ve made it rain for the first time. The ocean is still, and the gentle drops make little divots in the glass.

Déjà vu sits heavy, an indrawn breath, the lungs burning.

I am sitting at the end of the pier, kick kick, left right. The causeway is short today, only a couple hundred metres.

I don’t know or care where he is.

The lies come easier now: I am over him, he is nothing but dead weight.

Nothing has happened. He’s been the proper gentleman, giving the best performance of his life.

Why can’t we just get on with the ever After without being burdened by these ridiculous expectations?

Cell, museum, now zoo. If they were so clever, they wouldn’t need these puppet strings. They could just take the hair or skin I shed every day in that house that never needs cleaning. They could take what they want when I sleep. I have no power over it.

There it is, maybe, nebulous and stupid: perhaps this is their way of making amends.

I register the splash long after it happens, so used to the tight catalogue of noises. He’s a long way out before I find—feel—him, head of bright curls bobbing like a warning buoy against the thick morass.

He doesn’t turn, doesn’t call back any meaningless platitude. I won’t make it stop raining, it’s harming him none. Wet is wet.

Further and further, stroke after powerful stroke. I wait and watch, sick with anticipation, further than ever before, and still he keeps going.

I’ve almost lost him, his head a pinpoint, white hot star against the dark sky space vacuum water, after-burn on my retinas against closed eyes. Perhaps he should be over some curve now, but physics don’t work like that here.

When it comes, I’m straining to hear his cry. Perhaps there was one, I don’t know, it’s lost beneath the slap of my feet as plank after plank falls into place.

Long, straight, fast, true, but not enough.

The edge of all this ripples for a long moment, like pushing against a thick viscous gel, navy blue against the midnight, a stain on the satin.

He found the way out.

Damn him.

Later, much later when I am soaked through I turn around and make the long walk back to the house. Crying won’t make a difference even if I could. Water, water, everywhere, only inches beneath my feet.

I don’t bother to pull the planks up behind me, and they do not follow.

I’ll figure out what to do with the causeway.

But it must be soon, or they will come again.

© 2015 A.J. Fitzwater

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