There was something profoundly wrong.
Am I in a dream?
Her head was spinning. The air was stuffy and moist, as if she was near a great body of water during the summer heat. The taste of the air reminded her of that awfully salty flavor after going for a swim in the sea. No matter how hard you try to avoid it, the water somehow ends up on your lips and salt your palate.
She couldn’t remember the last time she took a dive in the sea. Must have been a lifetime ago.
It was an odd place she found herself in. Quite peculiar one, a place that reminded her hazily of the world she knew yet everything about it was obscure and unaccustomed. For the life of her, Nera couldn’t even remember if she ever had been in such a place before, scanning through the memories in her mind like through a collection of old letters.
Not a single element of nature, not one tree. Had she ever been in a place without trees? That seems unlikely. Whoever lives in such a place where nothing grows?
She looked at her hands. Nothing unusual about them, except the fact that they were resting upon a rather strange object, a wheel whose rim was connected by three short tubes of sort. It was black and wrapped in something unfamiliar. She thought it to be leather, but couldn’t possibly be sure.
Nothing in her mind felt sure any longer, not that material that covered the strange wheel, nor the place she inexplicably found herself in.
The wheel was attached to an entire apparatus of unknown origin and use. She was seated comfortably on a strange-looking seat with a belt over her left shoulder and stomach. It didn’t trap her, though. Somehow, she knew that she was there voluntarily, that she put that belt over her upper torso for a good reason. The rest of the apparatus didn’t seem familiar at all. Behind the wheel there was a flashy board of numbers and arrows, a bigger board with buttons, nobs, latches and bars, some of which were blinking and igniting. A bunch of levers behind the wheel confused her even more. She thought of pressing some of the buttons, but, like in a dream her mind is slowly forgetting, she had qualms about touching things she did not fully understand, so Nera kept her fingers to herself.
When she looked up she saw a familiar face. Upper half of her head was visible in a small, rectangular mirror attached to the roof of the apparatus. She had to lean forward in order to see the entirety of her face in the mirror, but that was impossible to accomplish. Clearly, whoever put that tiny thing there did not have people seeing their whole faces in mind. It was meant for something else, but what exactly, she did not have the time to rediscover.
A sudden realization came over her, like a word at the tip of her tongue. It was a box! It was a peculiarly shaped one, one which she had never seen before, but the notion of it sounded strangely familiar.
On her right, there was another seat, quite similar to the one she was in, with an identical belt hanging over to the side. It must be the manner of that box and the people sitting in it to put the belt over their body. For the sake of immobility? Protection? Surely not decoration. The seat belt showed no signs of being remotely ornamental or even attractive.
Behind her there were more empty seats. This one-wheel device was clearly meant to contain more than one person. Why was she alone, then? Where was her brother? Kai would know what that drat box was.
Nera stretched her eyes further. Through clear glass around her she could see a line of similar boxes. The succession was endless. Behind her, to her left and right, as well. Another plain realization hit her soon enough. The lines of boxes were moving! Well, not at that very moment, but that was their intention. Could the person behind the wheel make the box move? Did all those buttons and levers have something to do with the mobility of the apparatuses lined up on some sort of road? If so, she couldn’t possibly know which button to press to make it go. And even if she, would the same button make the device halt?
Oh, what a nightmare!
The lines were perfectly still. No box in front or to both of her sides moved, so she decided to venture out. With a remarkable ease she unfastened the belt – vaguely remembering how – and opened the left side to carefully step out. Other boxes in the line roughly shared its shape but each one differently colored. Some didn’t have roofs. Others were twice the size of her box, lengthwise and in height. Yet, all had candles lit on their sides. Some were red – mostly those in the front – and candles in the back were gleaning white.
How someone would light a candle without burning the whole device, was beyond her.
Other boxes seated people, unlike her own. Men, women, children, even some perky dogs. Most of the faces she saw through the glass seemed annoyed. Were they irritated by her stepping outside her box? Or perhaps, the wait in line? It was a rather hot day, and milky clouds gathered above them. She closed the side door shut with a gentle push. She didn’t feel quite herself. Nothing about her felt as her own, not even her thoughts. That place, whatever it was, robbed her of the sense of cozy familiarity.
Yes, this was a dream, it must be.
She was now absolutely sure of it. But how to get out? It was a terrible thing to be stuck in a dream where nothing made sense.
The noise multiplied. People in their boxes started paying attention to her now, as she was the only one who left her post. Loud sirens went on, accompanied by some foul language and strange words. Why are all of them screaming at her to go back to hercar? Is that the name of that weirdly shaped box, acar? It doesn’t look like any other cars she has ever seen in Huron or in the southern lands. Where are the horses pulling it?
She decided to ignore the people – as she normally would – and started for the road. The succession of cars didn’t have a beginning or an end. As far as her eyes could see, she was surrounded by boxes on wheels. On further inspection of this outlandish machinery, Nera noticed that they all were placed upon four identical groupings of wheels. Those wheels, she knew, are the essence of the car mobility.
The long road ahead of her made it impossible to visualize the beginning of the line. It was too long even for the size of Huron where streets stretch up to three kilometers in length. This devilish road began and ended on land, but the middle part was hanging entirely in the air. It was a bridge! A high, immense, heavy construction, nothing like she had ever seen before, except glimpsed in her many dreams and visions. The steely structure reached the clouds and ripped the sky open with its pointy peaks, releasing a sickly yellow hue. It was built across a wide body of water that released a salty flavor to the air. When Nera grabbed the paling on her side of the road, her eyes swallowed the seascape that stretched as far as they could reach. In the distance, the water encircled a horizon of tall, skinny buildings, and the entire skyline was somewhat hazy and yellowish, as if taken out of the insipid pages of some vintagebook.
Nothing was moving in the distance, only the occasional blare of alarming sirens.
She stepped back towards her box. She recognized it easily, not because of its glistening reddish hue, but because it was the only one empty. She thought for about a second of returning to her seat and putting the belt over her shoulder again, but something primal inside of her was advising her against it. As she was walking back, she caught her reflection in another box’s glass. This one, unlike others, was blackened. Apart from her face gleaning back at her in the dark glass, she couldn’t recognize the rest. Her body was wrapped in some unusual looking pieces of clothing. She was wearing pants, like a man, which wasn’t unheard of. Back in the temple, Nera frequently wore baggy harem pants to hide her figure and feel comfortable during hot, humid summers, but what she had on now was far from comfortable and figure-concealing. The bizarre fabric stuck tightly to her legs, especially in the thigh and behind area. Her feet were adorned with a rather painful pair of ankle-deep boots with a stiletto higher than her index finger, and on top she was wearing a tight blouse with some wire construction over her breasts. Everything was close-fitting and itchy. It felt like wearing shackles screwed tightly on her skin.
Was this the future? Was she dreaming of the future, catching murky glimpses of what people would transport themselves in and wear?
If she was, she did not like it. Not because of the advanced technology of transportation, nor because of the uncomfortable, chic clothes. Not even because of the sad realization that she saw no friendly tree across the bay. All her senses were warning her that the world which this dream lived in had already been doomed.
This impending doom that shivered in her core threatened to destroy her. Like a dog that feels the thunder approaching before the first drop of rain, Nera’s only logical move was to pull herself away from that bridge, but she knew all too well there was no escape.
Then, it came.
The ground shook. Gently at first, as if rocking a cradle. Then more violently. People started leaving their boxes on wheels, baffled and scared. Some were holding small apparatuses that made lots of noise and either pressed them against their ears or pointed them to the sky. There was no recognizable purpose to it that she could comprehend. When the skies turned grey and growing darker still, they all raised their heads. The clouds merged in a vast canvas of the angriest colors imaginable.
The wave came without a warning. They did see buildings in the distance being crushed by the surge, and saw them being swallowed whole like a harras of erratic horses came galloping from the distance. The trembling in the earth must have caused them, disturbing the great sleep of the deep waters. They charged at the bridge with all the intensity they gathered from the depths.
It didn’t last long, not with the speed it had accumulated. The buildings didn’t slow them down. They simply collapsed as if made of sand. The bridge went wild. It became a fighting arena of survival. But there was no such thing offered here. No safety, no hope. Surging at them at the speed of thousand wild winds, the waves reached the boxes quickly. Nobody was angry anymore for waiting for so long in the endless lines of cars. Nobody was screaming at those who wandered in the middle of the bridge.
Nera closed her eyes and thought of home. She did that every time something unpleasant hijacked her dreams. She thought of the one place that made her happy, the familiar faces that made her smile. Their sweet voices and the melody of their laughter. She didn’t feel the hit of the wave. She felt nothing, thanking her lucky stars it was just a dream. She wasn’t even afraid. That would have been a natural, primeval emotion, to let fear gush over and strangle you to death before that massive wave tomb you in.
Mankind wasn’t given a chance to do better this time.
Violent deeds, violent ends.
All the panic and screams and calls for help, hysterical cries and fruitless attempts to escape went silent. Everything was interrupted. Like pages ripped from the book in the middle of the story.
The air in her room was cold. The fire had burnt out some hours ago. Instead of salt and distress, Nera tasted the encroaching winter on her lips. The scented candles were still lit on the window pane. She was home. She never left. Her mind was sent to a transcendental age where the past and the present meet and at times become one, but her body never left her mattress.
No dream of the end of the human race was ever pleasant.
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