Brutalist Stories #80 — The Dread Singularity
The sound of laughter in such a place, like a cage looking for a bird. Backward. It has its purpose, but it seems wrong. Maybe the cage is there to protect, its function is not always there to trap, to imprison, sometimes it’s there to protect from the cat that lays outside in wait.
That laughter, there again. Some sort of protective mechanism? Something to remind me that there is hope? That there is another side to life, that we might yet get through this, that there is still the chance of a brighter day? No.
The faint sound is here to hurt, not save. Just as the cage is always there to imprison, never to protect, that sound, that laughter it holds nothing other than fear, it tells me just how lost we are.
I pull my knees up into my chest, the cold bites my skin through a layer of thin rags that hang off my body. It’s dark, some small fires flicker across the extensive ruins with people gathered around them trying to get any warmth they can. Weak and emaciated bodies, shivering and shaking, angular starved faces, shadows for eyes, hands held out in front of them, faint clouds of breath, people holding onto skeletal frames, looking up at broken partners, out of options and time.
“How are you doing?” Baker comes over to me, sits their back against the cold concrete next to me and pulls their knees in like me.
“Have you heard that too?”
“What for it,” I say, and we sit for a long time.
The sky is dark, the stars have long since gone. Disappeared along with hope, why we bother fighting on now, I don’t know. I look around in the silence, it’s hard to imagine why we continue, but there’s something in us that doesn’t let us quit. How much longer do we have to suffer on for?
“There,” I say.
“Wait,” Baker says. “Is that?”
“Yes, I think so.” I turn to him. “We need to check.”
He nods, and I push myself up, bones cracking, muscles straining, an effort to stand and straighten, the cold deep in my joints, the hunger tangled with my muscles. I help Baker up, and we stand there shivering, holding onto each other, waiting for it to come again.
“Over there,” he says and points, and we hobble over the ruins and into a small room.
A fire flickers in the corner casting the shadows of the people crouched over it onto the broken and torn ceiling of the crumbling room.
One turns a sharp face over their shoulder, “You can’t be here.”
“We heard something,” I say.
The face turns to another one and whispers something before turning back to us and nodding and beckoning us with thin fingers.
We walk up to the small huddle where they shift around to let us in, and there she is. A woman lay by the small fire, wrapped in the thickest rags I’ve seen in forever, her arms cradled and she looks up and her face is shining and her eyes are wide and she smiles and laughs and shifts her body slightly and I see the small face amongst the rags. A newborn. We didn’t think it was possible.
Something pulls itself up, something I’ve not felt in a long time, so long I’d almost forgotten what it was, what it is. A smile curls and a huff comes from my mouth. Joy? Laughter in such a place. I didn’t think it was possible.