As Deputy Editor here at Writers Bloc, I've had the absolute privilege of working with some of Australia's most amazing emerging and established write ...Read More
We are thrilled to feature a new short story by a talents from the next brilliant generation of Australian writers
The Room with the Great Blue Roof
Each day is a copy of the last.
There is a warm memory of my childhood: I am being bathed in the gentle, flickering light of a bank of television screens. And sometimes when the signal ends, I sit and listen to the fuzz and watch the static. In my memory it is like a bowl of shimmering water softly stirring in an abstract swathe of colour.
The buzz of the lights is as regular as the pulse of my heartbeat.
Patron 377 comes to sit on the fifteenth row, table eight, stool number three.
There were other mess halls, other tables and rows, but he never sat at them. And it didn’t matter because he sat and smiled while he shovelled his fortified grain into his mouth.
Patron 377 sits across from me. He sits hunched over his polished metal bowl with the last remnants of his meal. He catches me staring, and looks in my direction with a smile on his pale face.
"Good morning 405," he says.
"Good morning 377," I respond.
“I'm going to be transferred any day now," he said impatiently, idly stirring the grey blocky morsels at the bottom of his plate.
"Any day," he repeated.
A pang of fear swept across me. I couldn't lose him.
"I'm going to see you there," he said. “When you get transferred after me we'll be together."
I reached my hand across and grabbed his.
It was against the rules. He looked at me with shock, but let me grip his soft hand tightly. His touch felt like lightning to me.
The number of breakfasts I had watched 377 eat seemed infinite.
An alarm blared. It was time to move on to the working quarters. I looked over him for one last moment.
Since I met him, something about his eyes grasped me; rippling something namelessly suspended at my core. It sat heavily upon my chest. I thought about him wrapping his arms around me.
For a second I felt a fire burn across my mind. Through the smoke of misty memory, I watch as I ran towards the end of an empty hallway, to a door unfamiliar to me. My vision spins as I call something, words forming on the tip of my tongue with frayed meaning. Words…
It feels like the words were stolen from me.
The memory faded and I realised that I'd been standing alone in the food hall, surrounded by vacant chairs and an immensity of crisp, perfectly white walls. These walls stood at every corner of my universe. There was a pounding in my ears that filled the empty space with noise.
I'd never broken the rules before. And it wasn't like anyone told me that I couldn't, it was purely because that's all I knew. I knew I wasn't allowed to touch 377. But, maybe, it didn't matter.
Surely the Overseer knows about it all. A black, glossy shape sat on the featureless roof like an upturned bowl. I stared at it for a moment, and walked towards my assigned job.
I'd told the Overseer Screen about the dreams and memories and the feelings I couldn't label. Now I have four white pills to take instead of two.
It’s foolish to regard myself as a specialist at work, but I'd been doing it for as far as I could follow my memories back.
I hastily strode through the silent hallway, passing line after line of white cubicles.
If I laboured well enough, I might be awarded leisure time by the Overseer Screen.
The Overseer is the one who keeps us safe. It’s a monitor that stands upon a massive black pedestal and fixed to the ceiling of the meeting room. The Overseer Screen is something you never notice. It simply watches from above, silently and eternally. It rarely speaks to us Patrons.
Upon that massive screen was where I first saw my number.
The digits lined up on the vast display as I stepped forward.
There is a greyed memory somewhere deep in my head, that vaguely recalled the pain of the Number being etched into my skin: 405. My arm aches at the memory.
As that child, I had once spoken to the faceless Screen. I had questions that I wanted it to answer. It told me that I was the first child of the compound to ever ask them.
The next morning I had another white pill in my dispenser.
“Why am I here?” I had asked, alone in a room with the Screen above me.
“To be transferred,” it replied, with a voice so flat and soothing that it stilled my fears. “Wait here with patience, my child. Your number will be called when you are ready. Trust that you will be rewarded for your labour.”
When the Overseer Screen assigned us our jobs, mine was simply to remotely watch the mechanisms of a machine for malfunctions.
I'd been walking toward my cubicle, a smile from breakfast still on my face. After minutes of strolling through the silently vigilant rows of Patrons, I made it to my office.
The number 457 was painted above the cubicle in faded white paint. There was barely room to move about inside, and it was dark apart from the light of the flickering displays about me which invaded my isolation.
I had one button in front of me, only ever to be pressed in the event of a deviation of the routine.
Something I'd been waiting for through the endless cycles of waking life.
And I was prepared for that moment, because the rhythms of the automated scene that glowed upon the screen before me were as familiar as my breathing. My machine looked the same shade of gunmetal grey as ever.
At its heart, there was a sack of pink-yellow liquid, and in the middle of all this there was a jagged metal spire that terminated in a black clump, silhouetted by a rich orange light from behind.
As my peripheral vision fell away and I honed my focus on the screen, I watched the sack suspended between the almost skeletal frame quiver. A light dust had settled over most of the scene, although it had been there since I could remember. Something moved deep within, obscured by the skin between it and the metal. It looked as if some metallic arm was outstretched, meeting the sphere with pincer like fingers of wire and Surgical tubing.
With an abnormal pulsation, the shadow inside broke free of the stem it had clung to before. The rhythmic lurching of a meter beside the frame stopped, and swiftly, silently, the mess dropped to the ground without warning. I was too transfixed to press the button. Too amazed by the unfamiliar which was unfolding before my eyes.
With a wet thud, a liquid burst free and out onto the ground below. It steamed brightly against the grey tones of metal, steel and concrete. The black shape at the bottom of the device spilled onto the ground. It wriggled on the floor, kicking its tiny legs in the air.
The limbs waved in stunted circles. From its mouth issued a high-pitched screaming sound. Something I feel like I'd heard before, the note striking at a memory within me. The wiry hands above it began spinning another globe with robotic precision. The wailing wouldn't stop.
I slammed the button that sat in front of me, my body moving without guidance from my mind.
It felt like my brain had been unplugged. Like clockwork, the screen shut off. Sweat rolled down my neck. I shuddered, nervous energy shooting like lightning through my bloodstream.
My head ached, pounding as staggered flash after flash of memory tore across it.
I am holding something in my arms that struggles and wails. It is wrapped in a dirty piece of cloth that flaps in the wind as I sprint, tears run
ning down my face.
A voice slices through the chaos, a warm voice that strains and tears as it yells.
“Take your sister and go!”, The voice cries. From behind me comes a rumbling sound, and then three distinct sharp cracks of sound. I don’t look back. All I can do is run.
Thrown back to reality, I was startled by the steady thud of footsteps coming down the hallway. And they syncopated my heartbeat in a fast quickening rhythm. I jumped to my feet, shoving past those patrons already headed for the recreation area.
As I ran by groups of them parted and reformed, each stopping to stage in stunned silence after watching me fly past.
My muscles ached. I stared down, watching my feet thudding against the polished white floor with each bound. I didn't know where I was running to, or where I was.
The familiarity of the empty halls around me faded like the light of hope I carried within.
My world was closing in on me as I propped myself up against a wall. It was cold underhand, but the only anchored point in my tumultuous universe.
I blinked. Once. Twice. Trying to clear my vision. Lights flashed and spun around me.
There was a shape above me. One of the Overseer Screen’s many eyes looked down on me, pupil-less and unblinking. I dry-retched, and tried to grab at the points of light circling my head, but everything slowly faded to black.
I awaken in a room bathed in cold white light. My sight rolled back into the darkness within my head, desperately trying to escape the harsh glare of the screen in front of me. I tried to move my hand, and looked down to see a raw incision in my upper arm.
A thin line of dribble escaped my mouth. I felt numb, my body limp and heavy under the weight of some chemical haze.
“Please look in the direction of the monitor.” Something said in a gentle female tone.
“Please look in the direction of the monitor.” It repeated.
Giving in to the delirium, I looked into an unreal world of colour and sound ahead of me.
“Congratulations,” the voice spoke again. The speakers next to the screen pumped out the gentle words and they floated around my limp senses like clouds of warm air.
“You have been selected to be transferred.”
Excitement blossomed in me and I think I cried out.
“We thank you for your cooperation and continued service to the Overseer.”
My moment had come. The screen flicked through footage of men and women walking between great green walls of life. Striding hand in hand through rooms filled with the most beautiful yellow light.
All under a massive ceiling of the deepest blue, more entrancing than the eyes of 377 that I suddenly realised I would never look into again. And I felt like I'd seen the same shades somewhere far off, like in a dream.
Maybe that's where the squirming bundle I had held in my arms is now, in my mother’s arms under that watery infinity of cold colour above their heads.
Somehow I found the power to stand, rising on shaky legs.
A hallway opened up in front of me and I drunkenly stumbled down it. My limbs felt warm, my head full of hot softness that my consciousness couldn't quite dig its way through.
After a while I noticed a greasy laugh come from beside me. Looking across, I saw a man seated behind a table of flickering buttons. Not one button, like I’d had in my cubicle, but a whole desk fully of buttons. My mind stalled, thought processes malfunctioning.
I stared back out into the void, and my head gained traction for a moment. Words. I had to use words.
"Are you here to take me to the room with the great blue roof?" I slurred.
"Great blue fucking what?" He snorted, wiping his bloated hands on a grubby top. "It's not often that livestock asks questions."
Tears began to leak from my hazy eyes.
"What’s out there?" I asked, extending a shaky finger into the future. "Where's the end of the room? I can't see the end of the room..."
"The room ends right here," growled the man, rapping his knuckles against a glass wall with an echoing thud.
“Every room has walls. Otherwise, where would the lights be hanging from?"
Fear began to overwhelm me. I sobbed.
He just sat there, bewildered. "You know what? This, this is not my bloody job."
Scowling, he pulled a metal stick from his pocket.
"Go back to your room." He commanded.
"Now!" He yelled.
"Wait" I screamed. But he struck me across the face with the metal stick.
The pain made me fall to the floor shaking uncontrollably. The man kicked me in the back, but it was soft. To let me know I had to get up. I scrambled to get a footing before he struck me again and followed him back down the corridor and into a room.
It wasn't my room. This was a thousand other peoples’ room, but not mine.
"Are you taking me to the garden?" I asked, louder than ever before.
"Of course," He responded, closing the door. “And you'll be happy forever in the garden.”
There was something in his voice that made me wonder about the lovely yellow light, the green and the endless blue ceiling. But I pushed the thought away. At least I'm going to be happy, I told myself, and couldn’t quite understand why I was still crying.
It wasn't long before I fell asleep on the floor.
I awoke to hands grabbing at me. Something slid into my upper arm, and I fell back into my dreams. And the dreams were of the gardens, and the hand of 377 held my own as we stood below the blue roof; it’s lights were warm and healing.
I hadn't dreamed like this before. But for the first time in so long, I felt truly happy. I strode through the gardens with 377 and memories drifted through my thoughts. Memories not of the white expanses of the compound, but of being in my mother’s arms.
My consciousness lapsed, drifting freely between waking and unconsciousness like the shadow that broke free of the machine.
"She's awake." Somebody said.
The vision receded until I found myself squinting in a harsh light. Above me, there was no blue roof. It was just white. It was all just white.
My breath shot out as a warm mist against the tangle of grey in front of me. There was a metallic arm, with hydraulic tubing like veins and gently glinting servos for joints. It sat above of me, squat black eyes staring into my own.
I looked into those eyes and saw nothing but a black void. At the summit of the glinting metal arm was a circular saw.
"Is she ready to be harvested? Patron 405 looks a little fresh.”
I screamed. It was all I could do.
"This one was a dissident, sourced from outside the compound." Replied another.
"Organic!" Said the woman in front of the panel that drove the arm, each function snapping to life in front of me.
"See here? Rare blood type. Nice and compatible." I couldn't even turn my head. The tears welled in my eyes but they had nowhere to go. And I knew there was no use in blinking them away.
"Says here her sister’s due in any week now." As a hundred thousand identical teeth tore at my bare chest, ripping through skin, sinew and finally bone.
Pain washed over me. I slipped back into dreams. Not a dream of the garden, but one of the softly swimming static of banks of monitors.
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