Thursday, October 28, 2021

Microstory 1744: Indus

I’ve lived next to the border my whole life, and I’ve always questioned why it’s there. I once asked my parents what was on the other side, but they always started to shiver, and couldn’t answer me. I continued to press as I grew older, never asking the same person twice, and they all gave me the same non-response. They were afraid of going over there, but could apparently not vocalize why. I once wrote a letter to a friend, asking them to pick a random time in the future, and ask me what I thought was on the other side. Perhaps being the answerer felt different than being the asker. Two years passed before I gave up. I’m sure she got the letter, and I’m sure my words were enough to scare her into forgetting she had ever read it. I feel fine. It looks so normal over there. We have trees, they have trees. Animals make their noises over here, as they do over there. How could it possibly be so special that we’re not even allowed to so much as talk about it? I fish on the bank all the time, but even when I’m alone, someone will run out and scream at me if I wade in the water too far. It’s like nearing the center sounds some kind of alarm that everyone can hear but me. I saved up all my money for years until I could buy a spyglass to get a better look, but all I can see through it are trees. The forest is too dense, no matter if I go up or down the river. I have become an adult today, and I’ve resolved to finally do something to satisfy my curiosity. I’m sure someone will try to stop me from going, as they always do, but now I have a little more agency. Now I can choose to ignore them. I pack some provisions, and head out in the middle of the night.

I’ve never liked following rules, or limiting myself to where people think I should be. I know that the other side of the river is safe. If I can just get over there, and come back, that will prove it to everyone else. I just have to figure out how. The farthest I’ve gone is about a quarter of the way there, and the floor had already started to drop. It’s possible—likely, even—that I will not be able to reach the bottom. I can’t swim, of course. The nearest lake is in the next village over, so no one thought to teach me. I think I can float, so maybe what I’ll do is just move my arms a bunch until I get close enough to stand again. I imagine it doesn’t matter exactly where on the other side I walk out. It’s all forbidden, according to the others. I step into the water, and freeze for a moment, afraid that someone will run out and scream again. They don’t usually do it this soon, but I’m still worried. It shouldn’t matter. I’m doing this, whether they like it or not, so I better just get on with it. I’m more than a quarter way there, and standing on my tippy-toes. Instinct kicks in, and I think I kind of am swimming. I wouldn’t win any races like I hear about them doing on the big lake that’s a two-day journey from here, but I’m surviving. I’m halfway there now, and so proud of myself. Suddenly, my arm runs into something. It’s smooth and hard, and it’s not just in the water. It feels like a wall, except I can’t see anything. I just see the river, and the forest behind it. I tap on it first, but then I start to pound. Harder and harder until it changes. The forest and the sky flicker, almost like torchlight, giving me glimpses of this invisible barrier. I keep striking it, eventually realizing that it’s not invisible at all. The wall is what’s here. It’s everything else that’s an illusion. There is no other side of the river. We’ve been trapped in some kind of giant prison this entire time. Now there’s only one thing left for me to do. I continue to float down the river, hoping to find an opening through the border.

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