Insect Girl Climbs to Paradise
by Philip Harris
The Wall was well over four hundred feet high but the girl knew what was on the other side. Everyone did.
Mary flicked her wrist and a pebble skittered across the dusty ground and bounced into the base of The Wall. She hunted for another, picked a piece of soft brown rock and threw it hard and up, arcing it towards the top of The Wall. For a second she thought she might have gotten it over but then it dropped; hitting The Wall far short of the halfway mark. The rock shattered, leaving a brown smudge on the sleek surface. The Wall was peppered with similar marks where the other children had attempted to hurl assorted materials across the barrier. There were rumours that some of the older children, and some of the adults, had managed to get objects over but Mary had never seen it happen.
Sighing, Mary knelt down, picked up a stick and started drawing in the grey dust coating the wasteland. Random scratches became trees and a hill coated in flowers. A nearby bottle cap became the sun and Mary added thin rays of light stretching out from the cap, illuminating her landscape. Rummaging around in the dirt, Mary found a couple of small pebbles that might conceivably be called rabbit-looking and hopped them down her hill to play in the luscious green grass that she imagined surrounded its base.
A real world shadow drifted across the scene and Mary shivered. It was getting dark and her mother would be expecting her home soon. The rabbits tired of their games, hopped back up the hill and disappeared into their burrow. Mary stood up, dusted herself off and looked around for the finishing touch for her picture. She found just what she was looking for a few feet behind her. Mary dragged the piece of corrugated metal into place next to the hill and scratched a stick figure into the dirt on the other side. She thought for a moment then added a dress and a sad face before dropping the stick and scampering off home.
The Wall stretched out ahead, curving round until eventually it disappeared behind a cluster of rusting power generators left over from the original communications station. Ominous thunder clouds rolled overhead and Mary peered into the gloom as she trudged along; looking for a ladder or a doorway or a hatch. Looking for any way over, through or into The Wall. The air was filled with the tang of hot tar, the smell dragged over the city from the factory over three miles away. Glancing between the ruined sheds and bunkers that lined this part of The Wall, Mary could just about make out the slender chimneys of the factory reaching up into the sky and the black smoke billowing out of them.
Mary’s father had worked at the factory, her mother and sisters still did. Mary supposed that when she finished school she’d join them on the assembly line, hammering out parts for the giant construction machines that worked through the city, building and repairing, destroying and remaking the world in their own image. Mary looked down at her hands, beneath the layer of grime they were soft and supple. A couple of years in the factory would soon solve that and she’d gain calluses and scars and burns, just as her sisters had before her.
Raindrops scattered across the ground and Mary pulled her coat tighter and looked up into the clouds. Frowning, she considered turning back. The thick black clouds were clearly about to dump an ocean of rain onto the city and her coat was woefully inadequate, but she’d never made it this far along The Wall before, not in this direction anyway. Surely if she walked far enough she’d reach a ladder or lift, some way to the top of The Wall.
Mary’s friend Justin had told her that there were security guards that patrolled the top of The Wall, making sure no one made it over to the other side. When Mary had asked her mother about the guards she’d insisted it was nonsense. They didn’t need to stop people getting over The Wall because it was so high.
Mary was unconvinced. Everyone knew what was over The Wall, they had to want to get to the other side. Given that was the case, there must be a way for people to get on top of The Wall to stop them. People couldn’t fly so that only left a ladder, stairs or a lift. Of course the ladder, stairs or lift would be guarded by the security men so she wouldn’t be allowed up but just knowing the ladder, stairs or lift existed would satisfy her curiosity; for the time being at least.
Thunder rolled itself towards Mary from the other side of The Wall. The full force of the storm was a little way off but it was still too close for Mary to get home before the rain arrived properly. An ice cold splash of water dived down Mary’s back and she shivered.
Peering into the murk, Mary could just about make out the remains of some sort of shed. It was small, but part of the roof was still clinging onto what was left of the walls; just enough to shelter Mary from the worst of the storm. Mary hurried forward, hugging The Wall as she tried to avoid the rain that was already falling.
She reached the shed as the full force of the storm broke over The Wall. One second there was just a light scattering of rain spreading over the ground. Then the rain drops thickened and the ground began to darken. Then, like a tidal wave hitting land, the storm flowed over The Wall and the rain came blasting down in thick sheets.
Most of the shed was missing, the bricks recycled or stolen. The corrugated iron roof was also gone; it too recycled, stolen or perhaps absorbed directly into The Wall. One corner of the tiny building was still standing though, and somehow the matching corner of roof had also survived. Mary tucked herself under the roof, hastily pulling as far away from the downpour as she could. The storm roared around her. Waves of rain dashed against the walls and the thin sheet of steel covering her rattled and shook as the wind battered against it. Mary hugged her knees, pulling herself tighter and willing the rain to stop.
Water trickled across the floor of the shed and formed into pools, then lakes, as it made its way around the rubble that littered the ground. Above her, the water began to pour over the edge of the roof and Mary found herself crouched behind an impromptu waterfall, invisible to the outside world.
The shed flashed and Mary caught her breath. Squinting through the waterfall, she could see The Wall stretching away into the gloom. As Mary watched, it flashed, emitting a sharp burst of ultra-bright light that made her flinch and left white afterimages zigzagging down her retina. The Wall flashed again. Then again. Each flash was accompanied by a solid boom of thunder and Mary realised it wasn’t The Wall itself that was flashing; it was the storm. Lightning was arcing down The Wall, its metal bulk acting as an enormous lighting rod and coaxing long tendrils of electricity from the clouds above.
As she watched another finger of lightning rippled across The Wall and the matching thunder shook the ground and her little shed. Mary could feel the electricity in the air and strands of her hair began to lift gently away from her head. Glancing nervously at the metal roof that was still sheltering her despite the best efforts of the wind to displace it, Mary began to think she would be better off making a break for it.
Better off wet than fried to a little Mary-shaped crisp.
Thunder ripped the air again and there was a muffled crump as part of a nearby building collapsed under the onslaught of the storm. Mary ducked down, covering her ears with her hands and squeezing her eyes shut as she waited for the next lightning strike; waiting for it to hit her. A tear eased its way out of the corner of her left eye and dropped down into the water beginning to pool at her feet. A few moments later, Mary groaned as the ice cold liquid began to seep into her shoes. Again and again the lightning tore across The Wall, throwing the buildings around its base into sharp relief.
Then, without warning, the lightning stopped. The rain still poured down and the wind still tore at the roof but the lightning and its accompanying thunder stopped.
Mary tensed, waiting for the storm to spring one last, fatal, strike on her. It never came.
Gradually the rain began to ease. The waterfall became thinner, then ceased altogether, and the lakes around Mary stopped growing. The wind dropped and, apart from the odd recalcitrant gust, stopped tugging at the roof.
Once the rain had stopped and showed no sign of returning, Mary stood up. She shuddered as her wet dress caught against the back of her legs. Gingerly she picked her way across the shed floor; tiptoeing through the puddles despite the fact that the water had already weaselled its way into her shoes to be absorbed by her once white socks. Mary turned back, silently thanked the shed for its protection and wished it a long and happy future.
Mary lay on the floor, one ear pushed against the cold steel, the other plugged with one dusty finger in a vain attempt to block out the hum of the generators behind her.
Her friends said The Wall was over a thousand feet thick, her mother said it was more like twenty or thirty. Dissatisfied with both those opinions, Mary tried to imagine it paper thin; an inconsequential membrane between her and the world on the other side. Closing her eyes and willing the generators to stop, just for a moment, Mary held her breath, straining to hear signs of life from the other side.
At first all she could hear was the monotone drone from the generators, underpinned by the steady thump of the construction machines far off in the distance. Then, slowly at first, then faster and faster, the subtle sounds of a forest began to reach her through The Wall; indistinct snatches of birdsong; the gentle creaking of trees swaying in the wind and the tap-tap-tapping of a woodpecker at work in a forest. Mary could just about make out the soft chattering of creatures she didn’t recognise but must surely be squirrels or chipmunks. For a moment she thought she heard the soft laughter of a child but then it was gone.
The muffled thump of a dozen demolition charges rippled across the city and Mary was dragged back to civilization. Pulling her finger out of her ear, she shuffled round and lay back against The Wall. Tipping her head back she gazed upwards into the greyness of the ever present clouds drifting above her. A few moments later her vision blurred and she pounded a frustrated fist into the metal behind her. A dull clang reverberated across The Wall and Mary imagined a flock of birds startled into flight on the other side, their plumage a riot of reds and blues and greens as they spiralled into the sky.
She hadn’t imagined the sounds of the forest. She couldn’t have. There were animals there, and trees. And people, she was sure of it. Somehow people had gotten over The Wall. Or perhaps they had always been there. However they’d gotten there, they were there now and all Mary had to do was find a way to join them.
Mary twisted round and scrabbled backwards until she was a couple of feet from The Wall. Slowly she started swaying from side to side, flicking her head slightly as she reached the outer edge of each sway. She’d discovered early on at school that this gentle swaying motion jiggled her neurons about and helped her think. After a few minutes she started to hum; a random smattering of notes. This wasn’t something Mary did at school but she thought perhaps it would help too.
Mary sighed as another round of demolition charges went off, closer this time. She could just about make out the sound of collapsing brick and metal as the building dropped to the ground. When she’d first seen the buildings crumple thanks to a handful of well placed explosives she’d been fascinated. Now she was just annoyed at the intrusion.
A fly buzzed in Mary’s ear and she pulled back, swatting at it as it whirred away. She watched as it landed on The Wall and started to wash itself. Flicking its forelegs over and around its head. After a moment it stopped and began twitching across the metallic surface, skittering left and right on some insectoid quest. Mary watched the fly. Slowly, she reached for a stone to throw at it, hoping to catch it off guard. Then, as her fingers closed around a small rock, she stopped. The fly had started zigzagging up The Wall. It darted one way then the other, gradually making its way upwards; upwards and closer to the top of The Wall.
Mary began to laugh.
It took her almost three weeks to find everything she was looking for. It took another week to smuggle the motley collection of scrap metal, leather and plastic out to a shed that had once sheltered her during a storm and four more to assemble it into the apparatus that would carry her to paradise. But, after numerous false starts and a couple of prototypes that collapsed during initial testing, she eventually succeeded.
The key to the contraption, the ‘Magna-Fly’ as Mary called it, was the electro-magnetic construction anchors. She managed to scavenge four of them, along with a lightweight power supply, from the recycling yard and at first she hoped that was all she’d need. After a few trials it was clear she needed a much more sophisticated device. She couldn’t support her own weight for long enough and she’d never be able to climb all the way up The Wall by simply holding on to the anchors. Even if she could, she’d be far too exposed, and far too scared, without some other means of support.
The solution, after much experimentation, was a flexible metal construction in the shape of an X. The arms were jointed and fitted with leather straps made of old belts. Each one ended in one of the electro-magnetic anchors and at the centre of the X there was a small seat, again with leather straps. Mary was able to strap her arms and legs into the contraption and sit, entirely supported by the apparatus. Then, using a set of switches on the right handgrip to turn the anchors on and off, she could slowly clamber up The Wall without having to support her own weight.
On her first trial run, Mary had easily made it fifteen feet up The Wall and back down again. She hadn’t dared go any further in case she was seen but she knew it was going to work. It was perfect.
Mary was torn between her desire to get over The Wall, her fear that the Magna-Fly would be discovered and the need to avoid being seen as she climbed up The Wall. In the end she chose a Sunday. It was only three days away and Sunday evenings were always quiet, most people stayed in to make the most of their day off. The Magna-Fly was hidden behind some rocks inside the remains of the shed and the chances of it being found before Sunday were slim.
Even so, Mary could barely concentrate on her chores and more than once she had to stop herself from running out to the shed to check on her machine. When Sunday arrived she became even quieter than normal, edgy. When her mother asked her what was bothering her she just shook her head and ran out of the kitchen into her bedroom.
That evening, Mary wandered into the living room where her mother and sister were watching television and asked if it was okay if she went out, trying to sound as casual as possible. Her mother smiled knowingly and for a moment Mary thought she knew about her plan. Then she nodded and Mary dashed out before she could ask where she was going. As she closed the door her sister said something about a boyfriend and her mother stifled a laugh. Despite their teasing, Mary felt guilty about leaving them behind. They’d worry about her when she didn’t return but she’d come back for them as soon as she made it over The Wall and established contact with the people on the other side.
It took an hour to reach The Wall and almost an hour beyond that to find the shed, even with her torch. Several times Mary thought she’d stumbled past it in the murk. And then, there it was; looming out of the darkness, unmistakable. Mary hurried around the corner and flicked the torch over the shed. Everything was as she’d left it.
As she pulled away the rocks her heart rate ratcheted up a gear leaving her breathless with excitement. The contraption was untouched. Mary almost collapsed with relief when she flicked the switches for the electro-magnetic anchors and they snapped into life.
Mary dragged the Magna-Fly out of the shed and towards The Wall, cringing at the harsh scraping noise it made as it rattled and scratched across the rubble. At one point she stopped; convinced she’d heard giggling from somewhere behind her. She resisted the urge to call out. After several minutes of silence she continued moving across the wasteland, the Magna-Fly in tow.
Mary propped the apparatus up against The Wall and flicked on the top pair of anchors. There was a muffled clunk as they settled against the metal and Mary crossed her fingers, praying no one was within earshot. The lower anchors were more difficult to position but after some determined pushing, pulling and twisting, Mary got them close enough to The Wall to turn them on without making too much noise.
The third anchor popped on without any effort, barely making a sound. The bottom right anchor was more problematic. The switch for the last device was a different type, salvaged from a different machine and when Mary twisted it nothing happened. She tried again, then again but each time the anchor failed to activate. For a moment Mary considered trying the climb with just three anchors but quickly decided that would be foolish; not to mention dangerous.
The connection to both the switch and the anchor itself seemed to be fine and the cabling appeared to be intact all along its length. Mary tapped the anchor with the butt of her torch, gently at first, then harder as her desperation grew. On the fourth attempt there was a brief humming sound followed by a click as the anchor kicked into life. Mary grinned and began strapping herself into the Magna-Fly.
Mary was a third of the way up The Wall when the anchor failed again.
Once she’d gotten used to the regular left-right-left-right rhythm required to move up The Wall, progress was quicker than she’d expected. Unfortunately, The Wall was also a lot higher than she’d thought and the one time she’d looked down she’d panicked and spent the next five minutes with her eyes squeezed shut, convinced she was going to fall. Even when she got going again, her fear slowed her down for a little while but slowly she began to pick up the pace until she was clanking and clumping along impressively quickly. Then the bottom right anchor gave way and her leg was left dangling in the air for a moment before it clunked back to The Wall.
Mary’s heart stopped, then kicked back into life at double speed. The rest of the anchors were strong enough to support her weight but it was going to be almost impossible to move up or down unless all four anchors were working properly. Mary willed herself not to cry.
Gently she tapped the faulty anchor against The Wall; nothing. She tapped again; still no response. Taking a deep breath, no longer concerned about the noise, Mary swung her leg as hard as she could and hoped nothing would break. The Magna-Fly shifted slightly and the anchor bounced off the metal surface. A moment later there was a high pitched whine and Mary’s leg was pulled back against The Wall. Closing her eyes, Mary rested her head against the cold metal frame of the Magna-Fly and took four deep breaths. Once her heart had returned to something approaching its normal rate, Mary continued on her way. It wasn’t until much later that she began to wish she’d taken the failure as a warning and turned back.
The temperature dropped as Mary made her way up The Wall and once or twice she’d felt sure a few spots of rain had landed on her face. She didn’t want to think what would happen to the Magna-Fly, and to her, if a storm broke. She had been caught near The Wall during a storm a couple of years earlier and it had been one of the most terrifying experiences of her life; far worse than climbing The Wall itself. As long as she didn’t look down. A firm round of humming soon pushed thoughts of a storm to the back of her mind and Mary found she was surprisingly relaxed; eager to reach the safety of the top of The Wall, but relaxed.
When eventually she did reach the top of The Wall, Mary stopped. In many ways this was the most delicate part of the climb. It was also the most exciting and Mary wanted to savour the moment. She was almost tempted to look down, to get a feel for the distance she had climbed but there was a heavy railing across the top of The Wall and she decided that she would be better off looking down from the correct side of that barrier.
Hooking her arms over the railing, Mary flicked off both the top anchors and held her breath. The lower anchors, even the unreliable one, held fast. Quickly she pushed up and dragged herself as far onto The Wall as possible. She flicked on the left hand anchor, attaching herself to the top of The Wall. When she was happy she was secure she flicked off the lower anchors and half swung, half rolled herself underneath the railing to safety.
Mary lay on her back, her breath sharp in her throat, her body shaking with relief. The wind whistled around her, shrieking at her intrusion. The top of The Wall was brighter than she’d expected, lit by the gentle glow of a moon that seemed to peer at her through a smattering of clouds A handful of stars lay scattered across the sky, almost close enough to touch.
Slowly, Mary undid the straps on her arms and legs. Careful not to look over The Wall towards her destination, she wanted to savour that moment even more. She knelt, then stood and gripped the railing she had just climbed under. Two paces took her to the edge of The Wall and she looked down towards the city she had left behind.
The Wall sloped away from her, dropping a thousand miles before colliding with the ground. The shed where her journey had started looked like a battered matchbox dropped onto the pavement; the rubble around it a mere smudge. Even the factories seemed small and their still billowing chimneys, enormous at ground level, failed to match the height of The Wall. In the distance, a long stream of lights, dotted with the red, amber and green lights of traffic signalling system, marked the main highway as it arced across the city. Mary gazed out over the cityscape, imagining herself a hawk perched in its nest far away from human interference.
Mary smiled as her childish instincts kicked in. She was about to spit over the side of The Wall and see how long it took to fall when the wind picked up its pace and for a moment Mary felt she was going to be dragged off The Wall and find herself spiralling towards the ground. As the wind died again and the feeling of danger receded, Mary decided it was time to see what was on the other side of The Wall.
She closed her eyes and slowly swung around, still holding onto the railing to keep her bearings. When she was facing the right way and the wind seemed to be in a lull she started shuffling forwards, her hands waving in circles in front of her. For a few seconds she thought she’d missed the railing and was going to step over the edge of The Wall and plunge to her death but then her hands connected with the cold steel of the other railing. Gripping tightly, Mary stepped forward until she was pushing against the barrier.
Slowly Mary looked down and opened her eyes.
The Wall was well over four hundred feet high but the boy knew what was on the other side. Everyone did.
John sat on the ground, flicking pebbles across the gloom so that they ricocheted off The Wall. The air was filled with the tang of hot tar and the insistent drone of a nearby generator constantly shifted and changed as it struggled to distract him from his dreaming. The giant construction machines were quiet at night but they’d thunder into life as dawn broke, signalling the start of the new week and another working day.
Like most people John worked in the factory, hammering out parts for the giant machines that worked through the city, building and repairing, destroying and remaking the world in their own image. The work kept him away from The Wall during the week but he usually spent his day off there; imagining what was on the other side, searching for a way through or over its metal bulk.
One day he’d find it. But not today.
Sighing, John stood up and walked away from The Wall, back towards the factories and their chimneys. He got about ten feet before stopping again. Frowning, he turned back and looked upwards, peering into the darkness. For a moment there was nothing. Then a shadow on the top of The Wall moved and John’s heart leapt. Someone, he couldn’t see who, was on top of The Wall, looking down over the railing.
Slowly Mary looked down and opened her eyes and saw the boy.
About the Author
Philip Harris was born in England but now lives with his wife in Vancouver, Canada where he works for a large videogame developer. Not content with creating imaginary worlds all day he also manages to carve out time to write in the evenings. He has written dozens of non-fiction articles that have appeared in such enigmatic magazines as EXE, WTJ and CGI. His fiction credits include Peeping Tom, New Horizons and the Creature Features anthology. Having survived the 2010 Winter Olympics, he is now working on his first novel. He has also worked as security for Darth Vader.
Post a comment!
Please mention the author or this piece's name in your comment.
Back To Flurb Home Page...