This is my first entry in a diary I never intended to write. They say it’s mandatory to carry an accurate record of my journey in case anything happens to me… but that’s just bullshit. If something goes wrong I will be torn to pieces and the sand will carry my screams away to nowhere. No, I know exactly why I’m writing this, and it has nothing to do with any kind of recovery task. They think keeping track of my thoughts will help me to keep madness at bay. Well, I hope it does.
It’s been less than an hour since I lost contact with Clarity and, as I lay here on this hard rock watching the empty barren before me, I can already feel the pressure of the Expanse making its way to my thoughts. It’s difficult to put it down in words. I’ve tried to explain the feeling to my friends back at Clarity many times, but until now I’ve been unable to express how is it to be here, alone, in the middle of nowhere, with just the blackness of the sky and a bunch of stars to talk to. And the voice. The voice that speaks but says nothing, and endless stream of words constantly flowing through the air, the sand, my thoughts. Oh, I could make it stop, of course. That’s the first lesson we dustwalkers learn. But how would I find the way then? How would I know where to go in this white waste that is the Expanse?
“The Expanse has its ways.”
I wonder, where must Marcus be right now?
I’d better start walking if I want to reach the Safe before dawn breaks.
And believe me, I surely do.
I need a rest. The trail is getting weaker now, so I guess Clarity is already far behind, although I can’t know for sure. Here in the Expanse time and distance are foreign concepts, its meaning diluted by the overwhelming whiteness of the sands. Sometimes I have the feeling that the world has come to an end and I’ve been left alone to wander aimlessly in this ever stretching dessert of silence. At times, when the trail gets weaker and dawn is about to break, I feel as if my past was just an illusion and all my memories were but the feeble attempt of an exhausted mind to keep itself alive.
And then, when I’m almost sure that the world is made of dust and sand, when I’m about to give myself up to the Expanse, a memory hits me right out of the blue. Marcus is just there, in front of the Pillar, shadow upon shadow, his hand open waiting for mine. He says nothing, he does nothing, he just stands there, motionless, as if he wanted me not to notice him. I know something is wrong because Marcus is too short and I am too small, but it doesn’t matter because the Pillar is there embracing us both with its all-reaching shadow. I know that memory is not real, I know it never happened that way, but for some reason I can’t explain, I know that as long as I remain under its shadow the Pillar will protect me.
I still remember the first time I saw the Pillar.
I thought I was going to die. The duststorm had been going on for days and I was alone and afraid. Mum and dad had been caught in the outside when everything started. I called their names aloud until my voice was no longer a voice and when nobody came, I knew they were dead. For days I would feed on what little food we kept at home, sleeping the hours I could not weep, always wishing mum and dad to never come back. For days I heard the storm scream, sweeping the sand in whirlwinds of fury and madness. Sometimes, when I was too tired to cry and too awake to sleep, I would pray to the storm and the sand, begging them not to bring my parents back, begging the dust to keep them dead.
And then, Marcus found me. I don’t remember very well what happened later, but I remember the storm shrieking all around, a pair of strong arms holding me against a chest, dusty figures amidst the rage of sand, cries and howls, vanishing, fainting, fading…
Some days later, when I woke up at Clarity, I was told by a serious man and a pleasing doctor that my settlement had been swept by a duststorm (one of the most intense they had ever seen) and that my parents were dead (they were sorry) and that I would have to stay there with people I didn’t know and people that didn’t know me (but everything was well and everyone was sorry).
I didn’t cry. I guess I had wept all my tears in the duststorm. I didn’t feel sorry for mum and dad. They were dead but that was nice, because now they would never return and would always rest. I guess the storm had listened to my prayers after all.
After that, they let me out of the room but I was to stay in the building and not to go outside because I was not well yet, although I could walk and I felt fine. For two days I wandered the building and I soon discovered that it was a kind of hospital. There were rooms filled with beds and people. Some slept and breathed slowly, their arms and mouths connected to metal cables and wires. Those rooms were lonely and scary, so I didn’t come back. Once, I stumbled upon one of the survivor kids from my settlement and we didn’t know what to say. We didn’t know each other nor hadn’t seen the other before, so we soon departed ways and kept exploring on our own.
After two days, Marcus came. I had been wandering the whole day and I was tired and a little bit afraid. (I had mistakenly come back to the room filled with people and cables and wires. There were more people this time, with more wires protruding from places where there should only be skin. But this time they were not breathing. Their chests didn’t move and their skin was pale, too pale, so I feared and ran and ran and ran until I saw their chests no more and the fear passed). The doctor was standing at the door, talking to some stranger I hadn’t seen before. None of them noticed me so I stood there, quiet, silent, amazed by the strangeness of that person I didn’t know. They kept on talking until the doctor noticed me and introduced me to the tall person. He didn’t smile, but he didn’t frown. He just bent down, looked at my eyes and said that I was to go with him, that I had been alone for too long a time but that I needed not fear anymore, because now he was there and I would be alone no more. At that moment, I didn’t understand him, but his words carried a message no ordinary voice could have carried. It said “the storm will pass, all will be well, all will be well, you are safe now”.
And then I cried. I remembered mum and dad and the storm, I remember calling their names to a storm that would not listen and I remembered the sand and the dust and the rage and I cried until I felt I could cry no more.
Marcus said nothing. He stood there, looking at me with eyes unmoved. Then, he lent me his hand and I took it and we both walked out of that place.
The sun blinded my eyes as soon as we stepped out of the building. It was daytime and people were walking on the streets as if it was dark and the stars shone. Immediately, I felt the need to turn and go back to that building, where the sun was not to be seen and the windows were only tiny holes in walls of concrete. I let Marcus go, but he didn’t stop. He just kept walking down the street, as if he hadn’t noticed the tiny hand slipping of his grasp. But his hand was still open. I looked back at the ugly building for the last time and I ran back to Marcus and his hand and suddenly I felt that everything was well and there was nothing to fear.
At first, I didn’t notice the Pillar. We just walked on the streets, watching people pass by, unnoticed by a crowd too busy to notice anything but themselves. They wore their arms unprotected, their heads uncovered, as if they didn’t fear the dust could crawl up their skins at any moment. And suddenly, I noticed something. That place was clean. The air was fresh. The whole city smelled differently. While I was trying to identify what that smell was, we arrived at a round and huge square surrounded by tall buildings casting their shadows all over the place.
Marcus stopped and looked at me. He didn’t say anything, he just raised his hand and pointed at the Pillar. It rested in the middle of the square, towering the crowd, the buildings, the city, impossibly tall, overwhelmingly huge. My heart stopped for a second, and then I understood Marcus’s words. I closed my eyes and I heard. It was more hum than voice, a faint tune, whispering and reassuring. Suddenly, I felt warm and well and I knew that as long as the Pillar stood there, nothing bad would happen to me, or the crowd, or the city.
Marcus let my hand go.
I opened my eyes, eager to tell him that now I understood, that I had heard the voice and that everything was well.
The last thing I remember is Marcus blending with the crowd under a raging sun and a foreign sky above my head.
Dawn is about to break. The stars have begun to blend with the faint light of morning and the night has started to surrender the sky. I’d better start moving again. I don’t want to see the sun.
“The Expanse has its ways.”
I wonder, where must Marcus be right now?