The door, despite its inconspicuous appearance, sparked a skittish excitement that coursed through his jittery limbs. He’d been watching the door for weeks, the man always came at the same time, ordered ‘Zella’ to activate her hair, stayed for precisely one hour, before once again striding away. He’d attempted to follow the man a few times, but was never able to keep up in the labyrinth of turns and alleys. This time was different; the man hadn’t come. As he leant against the slicked brick wall shrouded by the obstinate gloom, he felt a pull, a yearning to touch the door and its concealed secrets.
The door hummed under his gloved fingers, jolting him back into awareness.
“Oh, shit,” he said as the door slid open, light spilling onto his recoiling form. The door closed behind him as he stumbled into a vividly white room. He stood still; his eyes gritted shut against the foreign brightness.
“You in a mood? I’ll let ya up,” a curt voice permeated through his bewildered mind. The ground jolted beneath him. A soft, supple material alleviated the impact as he sprawled to the ground. There was a soft ‘ding’, the door opened and a shadow fell over him.
“What’s up Mr Baird? Didn’t think you’re coming,” the brusque voice from before drifted from the silhouetted figure. “You sick?”
The figure bent over him, leaning closer to his tangled body on the ground. A hand timidly reached out, halting mere centimetres from his masked face. The hand wasn’t covered; no glove, no dirt, no calluses.
“You need help Mr Baird?”
He lashed out and grabbed the delicate hand, wrenching the figure into the luminescence of small, cubic room he was in. Frantic eyes flittered behind stringy strands of blonde hair. Perfect white teeth were revealed as her mouth opened in shock.
“Who the fuck?” she growled, wrenching her hand from his grip, backing up as he scrambled to his feet. He stood facing her, only a few centimetres and a mask separating them. “What the hell you wearing?”
“I do believe the more pressing matter is who are you and where am I?”
She sidled away from him, her shoulders hunched as an instinctual defence.
“What? I thought you was Mr Baird. I can’t keep him waiting too long otherwise he gets pissy.”
“Please, do cease that abhorrent cursing, unless of course you suffer from coprolalia, then please at least limit your use of such foul language.”
With a furrowed brow and intense stare, he took a step towards her retreating form.
“You said ‘shit’… Your words are so big,” she paused, “and have a pretty sound. That word you just said ‘copra – something’ what do you mean?”
He hesitated, his lips pursed in contemplation.
“Coprolalia is the uncontrolled, often abusive use of obscene language.” Scrunching his forehead at her bewildered eyes, he conceded, “using bad words lots; I imagine you would say.”
A shy, gratuitous smile graced her face but his raised had stopped her answering.
“Stop, no more frivolous prattle. I have asked you your name and where I am. Please answer my questions, and only then you may ask some of your own.”
Huffing, she sunk into a plush seat in the centre of the room. “Take that ugly thing off then sit.”
“Just do it,” she snapped.
For the first time in his life, he flicked the switch on his mask releasing the seal and allowing air from an uncontrolled environment to seep inside. Cautiously he lifted the mask off his head. The room, without the translucency of the mask, was a harsh contrast to the world that he knew. The walls were painted cream, with no sign of decay or rot. With the inclusion of the one she sat in, there were three large, deep red seats designed from a soft material he did not recognise. Attached to the wall was a large black rectangle with a green light flashing in the corner. Sleek metal objects sprawled ascetically throughout the room on glossy surfaces.
Turning around he saw a wall completely black save for a spattering of white dots. Whirling round to face her he ground his teeth in frustration.
“Tell me, where am I?”
Staring him down, she replied in her own gritted fashion, “Only when you tell me your name and why you were in the lift.”
“What the hell woman? Are you always this officious?” He trailed off at her icy glower. “My name is Rhyn. I was running; I tripped; I saw a man and a manufactured light; I was confused; I came back a few times; I touched the door and next thing I know you’re standing over me.”
“What’s so interesting bout light?” she asked.
With a trembling undercurrent of anger in response to her indifference, he curtly replied, “I have never seen it before.”
The look of horror that flittered across her face further spurred his anger.
“How can you be so bloody ignorant of the functioning of our society? We haven’t had electricity for over fifty years, not since you rich vermin bought it all and took it with you when you disappeared.”
He glared at her.
“Shut up. I answered your questions. It’s time you answered mine. What is your name and what is this place?”
“My name is Zella and this,” she sarcastically grinned, “is my tower.”
She stood up, her pale legs carrying her over to the black wall.
“Come here,” she commanded, gesturing for him to follow. “You’re from the ground ain’t you? Mr Baird told me that the people left’ve gone crazy and ugly. But you’re not like that; you’re smart and not ugly.”
Looking at the black wall he was surprised to realise that rather than looking ‘at’, he was looking through it. A few specks of light were scattered across the landscape, emitting a halo of luminosity in the hazy blackness. Below an unfathomable dark devoured the space below their feet.
“Those lights are other towers. I’ve never been to one but Mr Baird says they are. Behind us, which you can’t see is the Centre Point Tower; the HQ and home for most people. Down is the ground but there is a see-through wall between us; it stops the smog polluting our air and hides us from youse. Mr Baird doesn’t want no more uprisings.”
“That smog is deliberate? Those bastards! That barrier that ‘protects’ you, that keeps that smog down there, it kills hundreds of people. We wear these suits to protect us from it. Any faults, any openings and that poison gets in our skin and slowly but painfully kills us. For some the suffering is only for a few weeks, for others a few months. And yet you sit here all pretty and authoritative and you don’t even give a shit about us. You have all been here and yet you watch us die and don’t even care. You repel me.”
“Rhyn, stop it. I’m just saying what I know; not what I think. I know more than most because Mr Baird can’t read in his head but hast read his messages out loud.”
“Then why did you never leave?”
“Because I’m scared Rhyn, I’m terrified of what’s down there but even more so of Mr Baird. I’ve never left this tower, I’ve never seen my parents and before you I had never seen anyone even close to my age. The only thing I got is my phone; chatting messages with people I have never seen. I know you must have had a real bad life but don’t tell me I can’t be sad because you had it worse off. I bet you’ve never told no one that they can’t be happy because some people have it better off. You know what? Screw you! We’ve only spoke for at max ten mins and all you did is make me feel stupid with your big words and then get angry at me about something I can’t control. You have no right to judge me. Go away.”
Grinning, he started to stroll towards the door, “Same time tomorrow?”
“No,” turning her back she allowed a small smile to curl her lips, “come an hour later. We can’t have you running into Mr Baird.”