The World Underneath

In the mornings after a rain she’ll forage for berries from bushes sprouting through sidewalks, dewy rubble sliding away, some of it turning to chalky mud between her toes. She’ll climb the wires that the old levilator used to use and reach the top of the building she uses for water, cups and pans and buckets and pails and upside down umbrellas and helmets filled with rain. She’ll inspect them carefully, look for any trace of contamination. All it would take was to drink from something that’s been soiled by the birds and she’ll be gone.

Gone. Gone to where? Mother always said that when you left this world you were taken to the world underneath, that that’s where everybody went. Mother said it was a place of peace and calm, and mystery. Mystery because no one who had gone to the world underneath had ever come back. And you were supposed to stay in this world here as long as you could, because… Because. There never was an actual reason beyond the because. The because I said so. You were to stay here as long as was your appointed time, then go away. Forever.

Forever. For ever. The way Mother used to say it, it was like the way the sun always peeked across the sky, chasing away the darkness only to be pursued again. That was forever. But couldn’t even the sun die, the girl wanted to ask? Wouldn’t it? She didn’t ask then, and now she couldn’t at all. Some things really do slip through your fingers.

So she’ll look for the world underneath in the cracked and cracking features on the city’s swollen face, the scars of buildings healed over by tissue in the form of vines and wires of green, leaves intruding past shattered windows, erring into the darkness within, retreating and angling up the sides of the glass towers, reaching up high for the sun, a mirror image of themselves beside them, shining in the light in the minutes that the sun can be seen, before it hides once again from view, behind not so much cloud as it is interstitial haze, fog coming from somewhere human eyes have never been, will never go, even in their dreams. Hanging thick, choking the air of oxygen, sticking to the rags the girl will have to wear forever, the coils of her hair, the muddy grass now tinged black at blade tips, from this haze, whatever it is.

She’ll explore.

She will, in her time, make her way down to the sewer cover she’s seen before, the one that Mother steered her away from, to the other side of the street, beside the plastic people dangling from an old shop’s broken pane, no pain on these plastic faces, charred even, one of them with a handprint of old and faded blood on its cheek, colored brown in the sun, crackling in spots like dead paint on a wall that hasn’t been seen in generations. She will make her way to this sewer cover, and she will turn around to see if there’s anyone watching her, but there will be no one. No one but her. Forever. She will pry at it with dried-mud hands, but it will go nowhere. She will have no grip on it. She will go to the shop with the blank plastic faces and find in it a crowbar. She will picture in her mind a crow perched on this implement, this foreign tool that holds no significance to her. She will take this tool and pry the cover with all of the strength she has inside of her, and it will come free, crowbar tipping over, falling as the lid comes clear of the hole, the tool tipping, spinning, falling, still not making a sound, and before she can think of what is happening, the girl will be pushed, from behind, tipping over and forward, through the hole, to chase the tool she will have dropped down there.

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