As he led us around the ruins, we could see the remnants of old paintings which had been commissioned by the royal family. The surface was chipping off, but we could still make out the deeper hues which had not yet been worn away.
"What's this one?" the smallest child asked. "What are those things on her eyes?"
The child was pointing to a large mural of a woman's face. Her skin was glowing like we were not used to; even through the chipped and flaking paint the glow was incredible. Large dark circular plates covered her eyes. These plates were attached to sticks that appeared to balance on the tops of her ears. The child raised his hands to his own eyes, brought together the tip of the thumb and forefinger and made perfect circles through which he peered at his classmates, mocking the strange shapes which covered the woman's face.
The guide spoke.
"Those are called sunglasses, Bilo. They were used to improve vision by making darker the lights from the sun. When our people lived above, they were assaulted daily by the hot, harmful light waves that reached the Earth's surface. Sunglasses are just one of several ingenious devices our ancestors used to protect themselves from the damaging effects of the sun's energy and light."
Another child raised his hand and the guide acknowledged him to speak.
"What's a sun?"
With this, the guide began to fidget. The subject was always a strange one for the children who visited the ruins, the ones who had never seen it, the ones born after the descent. The guide crouched down so he was looking the child directly in the eyes.
"The sun is a star. It is the star around which all the planets in our solar system revolve. The light and energy produced by the sun was, at one time, responsible for all the life and plant growth on the surface of the planet."
The child's pale, fat face contorted and his eyes began to scan the walls. He looked anywhere but at the guide's face. It was clear that the words meant nothing to the small boy. The guide stood up, shrugged his shoulders, and continued the tour.
We had arranged the tour of the royal ruins as part of an ancestral appreciation project which coincided with the month of The Going. We felt it best to show the children at least a portion of the world that was once available to us, even if it was only the images in the uppermost subterranean chambers. That is really all we could possibly show them until The Going, and, even then, they would only see a glimpse, before the gates were shut tight again. And, even then, it would be the older children who were allowed to see. The younger ones were protected from knowing of The Going until at least their 18th birthday.
We continued to the large foyer at the apex of the subterranean chambers, where the main elevator shaft was located. I helped the guide herd the small children into the open doors. A few of the young men stayed behind with us. I pressed the button and, as the doors slid closed, I looked at the eyes of the children and thought about the things they didn't know and about the things I was about to experience by leaving the safety of the subterranean chambers.
Their eyes looked cold. I should not have expected them to feel compassion for us, the guide and myself, because there is no way they could have known. Still, I could not help but feel malice toward them. It could have been jealousy, for they had fifteen years before they would even be eligible to participate in The Going, some of them even longer. In a sick manifestation of self-pity, I smiled as I took comfort knowing that one day they would be at risk, as well.
The last millimeter of space between the elevator doors locked shut. I looked at the guide, searching his face for traces of the fear I was feeling, but saw nothing there. He was used to this. He had been walking the chosen up to these doors for five years. He had seen it all: mothers, doctors, old gray men, pregnant women. When you were chosen you went or you were forced to go. Most chose to go of their own accord. But now, the guide himself had been chosen, along with me, and we were ordered to ascend and expose ourselves to the outside.
The young men stood at the back of the chamber with wide eyes. Oddly, the guide clasped my hand and we began to approach the main gate to the outside. He opened the inner glass door. We walked through, and he locked the airtight seal behind us. There was no turning back. As the gate was thrust open, there was a bright flash of light, then heat, then the hard thud of my face on the sweltering ground. The gate slammed closed and we were alone.
As I felt my flesh bubble in the heat, I thought about sunburn and sprinklers and an aloe plant my mom used to cool the burn. I was happy that I had these fond, summer sun memories--the type of memories that the children would not ever know.
I thought of growth, as I watched the flesh melt off the guide's thin face. And then I slept.
This is a piece of Flickr Fiction. It was inspired by this photo by flickr user tangent. This story feels extremely incomplete to me, but I posted it anyway, because it's Friday and I want to be a good flickr fictioner. (: Any comments are appreciated. It's kind of different from what I usually write, which is one of the things I like about flickr fiction. It gets me moving in a different direction than I am used to.
You can find Chris Cope's flickr fiction for today at this link.
You can find TadMack's at this link.
Elimare's is here.
This one is by The Gurrier.
And this one is by aquafortis.