A young man wandered the streets of Bellude; the towering structures around him blotted out the sun, and tiny slivers of ambient cold cascaded down to the slums where he walked. The warmth, although minimal, was the embrace of nature that his brain craved. Kicking up trash with each step, he could feel a hollow sensation in his heart as he tried his best to imagine what it was like in one of the massive luxury C-Liners that orbited Bellude, constantly trading shoulders with those whom he walked around; he imagined being still, not being bumped into by anyone. A moment of physical silence where he would be allowed to exist in the world without being stimulated. The bliss of silent rooms was enough to make them tear up as the roaring sounds of constant industry around them filled their ears, with the shouts of those around adding to the chaos.
By the end of the day, he walked out of one of the many factories, clocking out but covered in the grease and filth of his job. As he walked out, he was surrounded by hundreds of others, all covered head to toe.
“Oi, where are you going? The wash house is this way.”
“I, uh, yeah, na, it is all good. I’ll see you guys tomorrow.” The man shouted as they walked away from the crowds.
His friends looked at him, confused, before following the rest of the crowd.
“What could he be doing?”
“I have no idea, but I get the feeling that it is an instant where knowing means we become a part of it. So, let’s just get clean.”
They all gave a concerned side eye before the crowds consumed the young man’s visage. He wandered the back streets with a confident stride; the deeper he got in, the more he was stared at by others. He could feel himself being sized up by people flicking knives in their hands and toting pistols on their belts. He kept his hands in his jacket pockets, keeping enough tension that it looked like he was holding onto something in both hands. The further through the maze he got, the less he saw of other people, but the louder the factories got. By the time he was alone, he could hear the roars of the machines so noisy that he could feel them vibrating his bones. He pulled his hands out to block his ears the best he could, just enough to stop the noise from causing his ears to bleed. He carefully worked the palm of his hand into his ears, creating a seal that contained a surprising amount of noise.
He removed a grate in the ground directly below a vent pumping hot air before climbing down and returning it above him. Down here, the noise started to slowly recede and return in intervals as he made his way around the tunnels below the city. A slow trickle of potential water was constantly moving, leaving a slippery green slime anywhere the liquid touched, turning the grippy metal into a potential slip-and-slide if he was careless with his foot placement. Bracing himself against the sides of the tunnel, he could feel the corroded metal pricking into his fingertips as the rusted metal turned to powder and snapped under the pressure of his hand. The air had a constant fine dust filter from who knows where any of the many industries above turned caustic materials that killed all those that worked inside. The air particles became smaller, less noticeable, but in thicker clouds as he descended deeper.
With aching legs, he arrived at his destination; the liquid below his feet flowed freely out the end of the pipe and down into the dark pit before him. Looking out, he saw the three other pipes on the same level, each dripping water at different rates; down the pit, more pipes were leaking more fluids. Everything below slowly faded to darkness, but the strange slopping noise from the bottom of the pit vibrated off the walls as they amplified in noise. The man spat off the edge of the pipe and sat in the muck; he could feel his body shifting around on the slime as his body weight pushed against it. He could feel his body inching towards the edge of the pipe; he did nothing to stop it. Instead, he watched as he got closer to the precipice, feeling as more of his thigh started to hang over the edge, but grabbing the edge of the pipe right as he felt his wait tipping towards the pit.
“Maybe, one day.” He paused, lifting his body off the pipe by putting all his weight onto his hands. “But not today.” He stayed for a long while as he felt his arms shake. “But I guess it is not intentional if I slip, then it was just bad luck…”
He kept himself held on his hands, despite the fact they were starting to wobble so much that his elbows were starting to falter.
“Charlie!” Screamed a voice from down the pipe.
Charlie turned his head in shock at hearing such a familiar voice, but as he did, his arms buckled, and he fell. The last thing he saw before he dropped was the panicked face of an old friend falling as they struggled to manage the slippery slime beneath their feet. Charlie dropped, and when he opened his eyes, he fell backwards. Looking up, he watched as the pipes flew by; the liquid pouring out nearly looked frozen as he fell faster than the fluid could. Speeding down through the pit, he slowly closed his eyes as the sound of the bottom got closer; he smiled until the sound of everything stopped forever. The friend slid awkwardly to the end of the pipe, where they looked out over the edge. Staring down into the dark, they screamed for Charlie, tears flowing freely as they gripped the sharp edges of the pipe. Taking a moment to deal with their emotions, they slowly made their way out of the filth of the pipes and back into the filth of the streets. They trudged through the back alleys when a firm hand was placed against their chest.
The friend looked up to see a cloaked figure taking up half the alley with their hulking frame, and what little they could see around them was the hustle of a couple of smaller people in similar cloaks.
“I don’t have any money on me.” They said, turning out their pockets.
The hooded figure shook their head as their hand moved from their chest to their throat. The friend started to choke, but before long, they could feel their mind slipping from consciousness as they caught a glimpse of one of the other humans pulling out a small chilled container and the sound of fine metal moving.
When they awoke, they watched as their blood slowly pooled away from them; with a hand on their side, they did their best to hold the wound shut, but the chill in their fingertips told them enough to know that they would be meeting Charlie soon.
“I told you he was out here; he followed Charlie.” A voice called out from within the blurry vision of the friend.
“What if whoever did this is still around?” Another voice chimed in.
“Then we are already dead, so help me grab them.”
The friend could feel their body moving, but only vaguely, and yet it was still enough to make them feel sick, but their body was too spent to vomit.
“You are an absolute idiot for trying to follow them down there; this would always happen eventually. Did Charlie get through?”
The friend was carried in silence until they eventually passed out, coming inside a strange house with people crowding over them and a burning pain digging into their side; painful enough for them to know it hurt, but not enough to stop them from passing out again.
The next time they came to, they were alone; the room had changed. What was once smooth white walls were now textured and brown with a slick of damp clinging. The friend tried to sit up, but each time they moved, they could feel the thick thread of material holding their side together pull against their skin, each strand tugging independently. They quickly stopped, but still, they could feel the distinct sensation of liquid trickling out of the wound.
“Shit, please don’t be bad.” They said as they gently pressed their palm against the bandaged wound.
They turned their head to their side to feel like they were curled up on their side. Pressing their face deeper into their pillow, the tears started again, and someone walked in.
“How you doing, kid?”
“Do you want the honest answer?”
“Yeah, we ain’t got much down here. We can at least have an honest conversation.”
The friend breathed heavily as they struggled to stop the urge to burst into tears each time they started to talk.
“Every day is the same; we do the same thing over and over again. Wheels spinning in the mud is how I feel; it doesn’t matter how hard we work; the fact is that the world is designed to let the privileged become more so while everyone else scraps in the mud with one another, not because we hate each other, more that we know that if we don’t get to the top, there is a good chance that we die face first in the mud. Meanwhile, there are those so far above they can barely see the mud. To them, we are the lazy, the uninspired knuckle draggers who don’t have the brains to get out of the situation we put ourselves in. Get a job, and stop being lazy; no time for you, just work, no time to live, just die. We are here as a complex machine that fuels itself, not knowing how to stop, not understanding how the systems in place are taking from our bodies and passing them up the line. All our money goes to those high above, and down here, we get to watch our friends die daily; we see the glorification of suicide, not because it is the in thing to joke about, but because secretly it is the thing we all long for, the thing that is going to take us away from here forever. The forever holiday gives no concern to rent, return, or restarting. The blissful rest is promised if we work hard; if only we had the time to just rest, we wouldn’t need to save so much for these holidays that offer the mildest form of rest. Still, the stress of the return is always there, which will always stop us from being truly restful until we actually die. I have seen over twelve people kill themselves since living here, and every single one of them had a face of rest, like a monk reaching enlightenment in the last moments of life. They look so calm, so happy, so complete in knowing that they are done with everything that happens here, and I see that and am envious.”
“Are you saying that you want to be dead?”
“I am saying that I want to be at peace, and the only time I see anyone emulate that is when they are moments before death. So yeah, I am pretty keen on it; I just want to be done with this whole being-tired bullshit. I want to sleep forever.”
“You know that I have been thinking about that same thing for nearly my whole life, and yet, here I sit twenty years your senior. Still kicking, and you know what?”
“What?” The friend groaned back, entertaining the question.
“I don’t regret choosing to live, but at the same time, I don’t judge for those that choose the alternative. Because this world isn’t made for people. We are not supposed to exist in these metal walls, concrete towers, and surrounded by death, filth, and chemicals. It kills the body true, but it also kills the soul. We have to fight to live down here; if we are lucky, we make a good few years before passing on, but frankly, I think everyone would be happier if we were all to die, almost like putting an animal out of its misery I think the human race needs to be cracked over the head and left to fall cold in the ditch.”
“I want to believe that we are fixable…” The friend paused, staring down before making eye contact with the newcomer. “But I think I am done with believing in a potential future; I am done believing, I am just done; Charlie was the last straw; I can’t anymore; if it isn’t here, it will be on the factory floor. Stuck in the noise and poison air, I would prefer to die in a bed, sat next to people who understand.”
The newcomers’ eyes filled, their blood vessels popped out, and they picked up the spare pillow, placing it firmly across the friend’s face until the twitching both started and ended. Taking it away, they looked at their face to see an expression of release, freedom from the mortal coil, and rest. They never looked so calm until now, their soul finally released from their poisoned and beaten body. The newcomer placed the pillow on the friend’s chest and rested their head upon it, humming to themselves; they slowly fell asleep in their chair, dreaming of never waking again.