A little after midnight, my head lifts off the pillow to the sound of static. A screen crackles. A siren issues a warning. Something is breaking, like an insect cracking through amber and crawling up through the millennia.
This is a test of your consciousness.
At dawn, I awaken to a chirping outside my window. I know not whether it belongs to a frog or a bird—only that it’s liminal, the way I’m now liminal, an inter-species poised and searching for its way across the evolutionary portage.
At first, I think I’ve gotten it right, waiting in line at the vestibule for the ticket that will let me pass through the terminal like all the people scrawling out before and behind who smile and laugh and chatter about birthdays and reuniting with family. Someone brings balloons and sends yellow smileys and thumbs-up signs. There are many voices, and we all hope this is it: the day we’ll break through the ceiling and climb that ten thousand-foot skyscraper, where the panels give way to endless blue, and we’re no longer restricted by walls and infinity mirrors. When we reach the limit, we’re certain, each of us will have a fair shot and things will be different.
Except we forget the sky has no limit. I am standing on the pavement above which frogs I mean birds scatter from untamed trees when he whispers this to me—the architect who lives in this building, in its sharp angles and dimensions. I watch his stealth moves toward the vanishing point and think we reached it already.
But my mind always wanders back to coffee shops—to the old world I loved. I was content to stand inside among strangers and wait at the little islands that held the creams and sugar. I had a sense I belonged—that the universe took care of me.
People want to care for me. When I walk the worn stretches of sidewalk, cars pull up and strangers lean out the window, offering me a ride.
“A lady shouldn’t walk in the rain,” they say.
But there is no rain. The sky is clear and the clouds are fluffed into the faces of family and friends that make me wish it would pour.
“Walk a mile for me,” they say, worried expressions fading, tires spitting up gravel as they barrel down the road.
The time has come. Before, I was always looking for time, but there’s plenty of it now. I ponder how ordinary objects swell with hidden meaning: the constant alerts and car alarms and sneakers flung on wire. The more I try to ignore or dispel them from my mind, the more pressing and urgent are their messages. I wish to reach out and touch them, to penetrate what they’re made of, feel their grubbiness in my hands and under my fingernails, hear their frantic tones rise together.
Somewhere between all this interference, I hear someone whisper about what makes existence possible on a finite planet. Even on our darkest quests—the hunt for our origins—we must look out for each other, it says. We must ring the alarm to let others know we’ve returned.
The screen crackles, magical woo, and they’re there:
Everyone I ever knew, back together.
Each day, we overflow from soft envelopes and fire-orange flesh of old-growth forests. We spill from the damp, black bedrock that harbors Earth’s oldest secrets—the primordial soil—building ideas like thunder. We are ready, and who knows when we will stop?
Katie Nickas writes flash fiction exploring conflicting identities. She is drawn to strong, unapologetic characters placed in difficult situations. Her work is published or forthcoming in magazines including Asymmetry, Dear Damsels, Five on the Fifth, Idle Ink, Sidereal Magazine, and STORGY. @katienickas