The picture was of an alternative reality with a mix of 16th century sailing, steampunk attire, future technology and post-apocalyptic problems. The world had come last in the rat race: due to a great natural (and a bit artificial) catastrophe, the planet’s topography has been completely remade – instead of a blue planet with outcropping continents, the Earth was now a ball of water. People lived in ships in a sort of Noah’s Ark attitude, only without the coupling aimed at repopulating the Earth. A few poor, derelict cities on stacks floated above the surface, always under danger of facing complete destruction at the next storm or sea creature attack.
I was in one of these life-saving ships with some aquaintances and friends from High School – Richard, Evan, Ashleigh, Gillian, Louis, and my old sweetheart, John, who was, by the way, dressed as a handsome 19th century Italian Sea Explorer. He wore a beard and with those clothes looked like a perfect literary hero – it goes without mentioning that I was as much in love with him as I used to be in school. We were on a mission to find rare and sacred “earth-forming” elements. The idea was that uniting these materials would reverse the decaying process to which our planet had been submitted, and thus we would be able to rebuild it and save the world.
John had many years of experience as a navigator and explorer and, as such, he was our captain. We were being chased by enemy vessels, so it was of the utmost importance that our captain steered the ship through the rough, eerie and dangerous waters in safety. For this, we all respected and admired John’s abilities, and I loved and admired him even more. In fear of our pursuers, a group of other determined sailors and I decided to stay close to him. He was busy manouvering the rudder and there was still a lot to do with the cording and sails, so I offered some help, though I wasn’t an official member of the ship’s crew and had but the most basic sailing skills.
During a small break, I approached John and asked him how we would be able to outsmart the pursuing ship. He pulled me to his side and pointing with his hand, said that at the moment we were safe, because we were on the “higher ground”. At first I couldn’t understand it – the water shone like a crystal under the sparkling sun and it was hard to see clearly. Finally, with John’s guidance, I saw it: the portion of sea around which our route was set was higher than the farther surrounding area. It was as if we were on top of a mound made of water, and from this vantage point, all the other uneven gaps and elevations could be observed; far away, the ocan’s surface had ripples and rolling hills, just as the lands used to have. Right around us, there were no waves; the sea was as smooth as a mirror. Apparently, the planet’s collapse had also bent the laws of Physics.
Thereon, we looked back and saw a gigantic ship looming towards us like a cliff, right on our tail: we had left the higher ground and could be destroyed at any moment. Suddenly John was back at the steering wheel, guiding us through the treacherous waters and shouting instructions to his trusted seamen. The ship’s civilian passengers were panicking, but I knew that as long as the captain was with me, there was nothing to fear. Finally, John steered us away from the monstruous ship – we were saved.
The following lull brought John and I closer together, and we talked about our adventure. I felt there was a deeper secret underlying our mission, an element of power that influenced all our doings in that forsaken reality: glass. The true nature of all elements could be seen through a glass door that appeared, evanescent as a ghost, at determined points of the ocean’s surface, according to the convergence of energetic cosmic rays and magnetic forces. The glass door projected a reflection on the water, through which passed only the true essence of matter. As we were sailing over water, I expected to see, when the magical glass door appeared, some blue blubbles or even its chemical structure. But then there was nothing: the reflection simply wasn’t there, though I could still see the glass door. It was like travelling in a blue-tinged, light-splashed vacuum. Were we really sailing through nothing? Could this really be the answer?
It turned out glass was one of the rare earth-forming elements we were seeking on our quest. It wasn’t conspicuous, but something precious and mysterious, whose structure revealed wonderful secrets about the truth of existence. John hadn’t told this to anyone else and after a few minutes I noticed a shining disturbance of the atmosphere which denoted another apperance of the magical door. I observed how the glass reflected, instead of the water around us, an unsubstantial nothingness, a colorless gradient that went from crystalline transparency, through various degrees of opacity, until it found the deepest and darkest black, a complete void whithout light or hope. That was the nature of our environment.
* * *
We stopped by one of those decrepit old cities on poles. The place looked utterly abandoned. There were little lame wood huts and eerie, rusty ship hulls lying creepily about, lurking as sentinels of a graveyard. A special force comprised only of women was entrusted with the next step of the world-saving mission: entering the town, searching the room with an element-sensitive probe, and seize the sacred glass – even if it meant encountering resistance. Scared but determined, our little trail-blazing group set out from the mother-ship in search of the glass. In single file, we stepped out of the gangway and caustioulsy proceeded over the rickety wood rafts that served the purpose of streets. The air was close, foggy and dusty even though it was the middle of the day; it felt as if entering the site of a nuclear disaster futher ravaged by violent fire.
Women could spot not only rare elements better than men, but were also more sensitive to paranormal activities. We had, then, bigger chances of finishing the mission sucessfully – that is, finding the glass and taking it back to the ship – and living to tell the story. But at that moment we needed the guidance of the captain, the only man who had dared to leave the ship and enter that accursed place. We bore no weapons save our own hands, a few knives and a baseball bat. We walked slowly. Our instruments started screaming as we pointed them to several decaying wooden huts from left to right, and guided by intuition, each of us chose one and went ahead. As I mentally prepared myself to go, I noticed that John was missing – he was nowhere to be found. I called some collegues to point out this terrible new misfortune, but they couldn’t listen. It seemed like it was left to me to try and save the captain, as well as the world.
I entered the little hut. It was a gloomy place, but the wooden boards that made up the walls filtered the light outside, projecting bright rectangles onto the creaking wooden floor. It looked like a haunted old shed, complete with cobwebbed ceilings, fey atmosphere and threatening noises. Suddenly, several evil creatures with a solid, corporeal appearance attacked me. Like little devils they looked, flying from all nooks and crannies, right at me. I fought them, kicked them and punched them with all my strength, and they were destroyed. Exhausted, my eyes, now accustomed to the dusky light, observed that other beings were materializing – or rather, appearing – out of nowhere into the room. Resembling transparent shadows, towering over me, as dark and diaphanous as the cosmic void, these hellish specters couldn’t be overcome by means of brute force. Only the truest, purest and most honest of feelings could keep them at bay. I thought of John, and I screamed at them: a high, agonized, powerful wail. I opened my eyes and they were gone.
Finally, free to observe my surroundings and complete the mission, a translucent sheen caught my attention: it came from the half-open doors of an old cupboard in a back corner of the hut. Was that another trick, or was it the magic glass that I saw sparkling? Was it calling me to uncover the ultimate mystery, the answer to everything? I listened to my instincts and approached with caution, my body tense in the expectation of something terrible. I pulled the nearest door towards me and there it was: the skeleton woman, a huge feminine form with exposed bones and rotting flesh, a living-dead corpse who feeds on human bodies and souls.
The other women had now finished their search and had had no luck in finding the sacred elements. The skeleton-woman yelled and slowly moved towards me, but I wasn’t afraid anymore; I just waited for it to be over. The noise attracted my companions to the hut and as they saw the 3 meter high ghostly corpse, their hands went straight to their weapons: they would have stabbed the skeleton-woman to pieces right then and there, but I knew there was more about the monster than meets the eye. I stood between them and told them not to hurt it, but they gave it a good beating all the same. As the creature collapsed to the ground, overthrown, all its feminine, rotten and gigantic appearance gave way to a masculine, tall but normal, tired but definitely alive form: it was John. He had been possessed by that evil entity and would soon have been drained of all life. There, on the bottom shelf of the cursed cupboard, I saw the glass. It wasn’t translucent and illusory as I expected, based on the magical glass doors I had seen before, but strong, thick and brown-tinged, like beer bottles in the shape of assay vials.
Gathering all the glass vials I could find, I gave one to each of the women, my fellow explorers, and kept two: one for me and one for John. The women went back to the ship while I stayed with the captain; he was still very weak, and I nursed him until he recovered his strengths. He thanked me for saving his life with so much sincerity and gratefulness that I thought, maybe, the moment had come. He had never made it clear that he liked me, but I felt he did. And whatever the result, I knew I had to say it in order to move on with my life – with him or without him. I told him then, that I had always loved him, that he had always been the one. It felt like opening my chest, taking my heart in my hands and giving it away – it was cathartic. But he didn’t want it: he put my heart back, inside of me, right in the middle, where it belonged.