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Follow the Arrow

By @Mickey1763

Follow the Arrow

It began with a slip of innocent paper.

The paper itself was mundane by all means, but this morning it was almost magical as it flew through the air, urged by the winds of what was once called spring. It tumbled and turned and tossed its way through the suffocatingly toxic air, dodging plumes of smoke that emanated from a myriad of factories.

Then it began to fall off the top of a building as the wind died, then was picked up again by a rogue force, pushing rebelliously ahead.

Meanwhile, not 500 yards from the slip of paper, a man in a long trench coat, trudged his way through the dingy streets in his familiar line of acquaintances. Though the recent downpour had been torrential, the man-, commonly known to his colleagues as John-, shuffled through the murky puddles in his black shoes, not providing them any thought – or any thought of anything at all.

In fact, no one in his line thought of anything either. The prospect of thinking had died out centuries ago. In its stead, citizens of New Blark were expected to carry out their obligations -whether it be fulfillment of appetite or attending work- without question. And for centuries, only minor occurrences interfered with the system. Some of these occurrences included the uncovering of banned novels, originating from before the Transformation when everyone thought for themselves. The reason for the Transformation exactly has been clouded for as long as anyone can remember, and frankly, everyone regarded the mystery with severe apathy, as the system worked well and equally.

However, due to the result of the corruption of free will, almost all of nature had been adulterated and then rid of altogether. The sun and moon were blanketed over by clouds of thick regret that flooded acid rain; bodies of water were contaminated with so much chemical waste that it seemed as if the earth had begun to bleed red rivers; and the dirt turned into dust that fled away in the whispers of the wind, eager to flee. Albeit, it was said that nature reigned still somewhere. But as addressed before, no one regarded the matter with much attention.

John, a thirty-five year old victim of the system that had not been the fault at his hands, continued walking in his line. He had a noticeable lack of laugh lines around his mouth, and his once piercing blue eyes were clouded over by dullness. Additionally, his blonde hair was smudged with some sort of dirt, which had found him down the past street or other. Had John known what would occur subsequently during that morning, he would probably have thought twice about what happened next. But again, he preferred not to think at all back then.

The aforementioned slip of paper dipped down again as the wind died with abrupt finality. The paper slid through the air the with certainty as if finally completing a dance it had taken years to perfect. Half way through, however, it stalled only slightly before falling yet again until suddenly, it landed gently upon John’s unsuspecting shoulder. At the touch of the paper, he snapped his head toward the innocent thing and took it with precise fingers as he walked. The parchment was ivory white, and a very ink-blotted arrow took up most of the space. Although, under the arrow, in a small crawl were merely three words: Follow the arrow.

At this, John stepped swiftly out of line to ponder over the paper. Two individuals who had been walking behind him glanced at John in mute surprise before filling the gap and resuming forth: a set of wind-up toys with grimly-painted miens.

John turned the paper over, expecting someone’s name to appear upon it or a second set of directions, but the space was merely filled with the ivory color. He glanced up, his line already too far into the distance. Then he looked back to the paper. Follow the arrow, it read. And that was exactly what he shall do, he concluded. The arrow currently pointed north, and so, he marched on north.

***

The journey to wherever Destiny would eventually lead him to was much more difficult than he had originally suspected. The lines of individuals repeatedly intercepted him as if by design, though he knew well enough was all merely circumstantial.

However difficult to avoid the thoughtless drones, John would not –could not– abandon his order, as he could not himself recall a time when he ever abandoned a direct order.

He had stumbled into several persons in the first five minutes, whom he had politely apologized with a brief “sorry” before marching forth again. The disturbed persons in return, regarded him with a glance before focusing their attentions back on their lines. John, after the first five disastrous minutes, was able to more expertly dodge people to which after some time, he had only stumbled into only four unlucky individuals.

After those four unlucky individuals, the amount of lines began to thin considerably, until John noticed with a creeping despondence, no lines whatsoever. He halted in his tracks and gazed around him, perturbed by the sudden absence of people and the wavering silence that sat upon him like a dead weight. And suddenly, for the first time, he registered the bleak, abandoned buildings that though were short, came in tight clumps of a few, taking up much of the space. These buildings must have been around shortly before the development of the Transformation. John was far from his community if he was near these ancient buildings.

He glanced back down to the procured paper, hoping for an oversighted word or identity of the person who had written the directions on it so as to perhaps locate and inquire this person. But his hope withered away into ashes when he saw nothing new, just the words “follow the arrow” and the arrow itself. John looked up from the paper, to a narrow, arched alleyway surrounded by the buildings. He glanced behind him, unsure why exactly – perhaps wishing for someone to deliver him a different order. Though of course, John was the only present being.

The paper had given him a demand… However unfulfilling it may seem, he decided, it must be carried out!

With renewed vigor, he marched forth in between the alleyway, the walls standing tight against him as went. 

He immediately noticed the cool air pressing against him that held a dampness to it as darkness began eating out the light. But there was just enough light so that John could make out vaguely the straight route ahead. He embraced himself to keep warm and looked about his surroundings, waiting for some other route to unveil itself.

He had been walking through the dimly-lit alleyway until a slight scrap of light peeked its way through the end of it – if it indeed was the end of it. Noticing the light instantly, John quickened his pace to a sort of jog. With each step, the light grew considerably. His heart sped in time with his feet, and then he was there, at the exit, and suddenly, suddenly-

His eyes burned with intensity, and he shielded his eyes against the source of the pain. He stood like that, his hands covering his eyes for a few minutes before he let a small ounce of light enter and after ten minutes, allowed himself to gaze upon his surroundings.

There was no one still, he noticed. But there were colors. Many, many colors. Purples, pinks, whites, reds, oranges, and greens jumped out at him upon the ground. A faint word tugged at the edge of his mind. A word from before the Transformation… They were not fans… They were… They were… Flowers! Yes, that’s what they were, he concluded decisively. The flowers grew of varying lengths: some stood tall and confident; some stood meek and delicate, but beautiful regardless; and some stood there in a large populace, just staying there for the sake of it.

John took a relieved breath, glad that he had managed to arrive somewhere. When he took that breath, however, the air he consumed was like water that had remained unavailable to a wayfarer in the desert for weeks. It was beautiful, it was wonderful, it was… full of scent. Another memory tugged at his mind – that these… flowers used to carry scents.

John looked down at a nearby flower, which had pearl-like petals and a golden center. A rogue desire seized him to smell this lost piece of nature. Yet how could he? Should someone else have been there, they surely would not smell the flower – would they? Then again, they were not here. But consequences could arise, like a fatal poisoning.

John took out the paper again, which had been in the pocket of his trench coat. The paper pointed to the flower, as if egging him on. If the paper says so, I am to do so, he thought. He took a breath of finality and leaned down toward the flower. He did not have any desire to rip the innocent thing due to a feeling inside of him he could not quite place.

He leveled his head to the flower, so that he was a mere two inches above it. Then he drew in a scent. And it was the most amazing smell he had ever took. It was sweet almost but not quite, and it was most certainly did not smell like the deceptively sweet smoke he was so used to. It was so wonderful, that he took another scent and another. Then he stood, a foreign emotion invading his breast – one that he could not quite place. Yet as soon as he felt it, it evaded him.

He must walk forth, as surely the field of flowers was not the final destination. And he could not disobey a direct order. So, he marched forth yet again through the field of flowers, tip toeing as he did so, attempting to avoid stepping upon the delicate gifts of nature.

***

After some time, John had given up trying to avoid stepping on the flowers, though he did so with remorse. The task had become impossible and wasted precious time.

How interesting, that scent, John thought as he trudged. How is it that I am seemingly the only one who knows of the existence of that… that… meadow! Yes – that meadow? Surely someone had found it, one time or other? Then John’s thoughts went back to just that morning: he was off on his way to work, his mind blank and his intentions mundane. Presumably, it held a similar likeness to that of everyone else’s. No one would desire to seek out nature.

A sudden tocsin disrupted John’s reverie as he came upon the end of the meadow; it ended in a large rock formation that stood as easily as fifty feet tall. He glanced behind him, searching for the source of the sound. The noise came again, but this time in front of him. He snapped his head forward, meeting the beedy eyes of an estranged-looking creature with a black, elongated mouth; the bird’s black exterior had an almost shiny quality, like obsidian.

Careful not to disturb the creature, he took a tentative step backward. The creature, in turn, cocked its head to the side as if in condescendence.

At that, John approached the creature, trying to ignore the pounding in his heart, ready to properly interact with it. However, he never managed to reach it, as it flew away in a series of “caw’s.” He watched the obsidian thing fly away in amazement until it was hidden from view behind some -surprisingly- white clouds. John frowned. Though the creature did not appear to be particularly fond of his company, and himself likewise, he couldn’t shake the sense of mysticism left behind in its wake – the mysticism that something could fly. And not with mechanical assistance either; it was all purely -it seemed- natural.

“Natural…,” he whispered. It tasted foreign in his mouth: awkward and misshapen. Before he could ponder over it, a sudden note pierced the air for the second time that day. Suddenly, a similarly-shaped being fluttered its tiny body on a rock above the black one had sat. It made the same note again – except, unlike the one prior, this one sounded… musical. A similar sound replied back some distance afar. John whipped around to see another creature fly into existence and sit itself beside the other one. They were both enveloped in a smooth texture of rosewood, and their protruding mouths were small and modest.

Having settled down comfortably beside each other, they began exchanging a series of the aforementioned notes. They were high-pitched, but gentle; piercing but soft; mundane but unusual. John listened intently to their conversation, eyes locked on them as if he could understand every word of their discussion. Of course, he could not understand a single item of their conversation. To him, it was merely a similar exchange of notes, but he was captivated by those sounds. He wanted to imbibe the sounds into his soul and let them stay there, eternally echoing through him, because for a moment, he realized he simply could not stand the prospect of returning to a world absent of that music, replaced by the cranking of machinery and rain pattering against window panes. The thought ate at him, and he quickly disposed of the prospect, returning his attention back to the… birds, he realized.

He vaguely remembered hearing that they had once populated nearly every continent until the air pollution had eradicated almost all of them. And it seemed that some of them were able to find a sanctuary here – wherever here was.

Then, some unseen force captivated the attention of the birds, and they flew off into the distance, disappearing into an oblivion. He glanced woefully in the direction of the birds. He knew his task was still underway, but he couldn’t help but mourn the loss of their sweet music.

He looked up at the rocky structure, and took a deep breath. The next part of his task would not be so easy. He shed his coat in preparation for it.

***

John pushed himself onto another boulder, sweat lining his skin in pools and his muscles aching terribly. He had worked with heavy machinery all his life, but actively working his muscles for an hour was painfully new to him.

John breathed heavily, his breaths coming out long and ragged. He glanced up at the next boulder. The last one. Renewed with a sudden bout of energy, grasped the lower grooves of the large rock, and searched with his feet for something to cling onto. Finding some grooves, he hoisted himself up onto another set, and this continued for another ten minutes before his foot briefly slipped on one. He stood, clinging to the rock, waiting for his heart to slow until he began again. After some additional five minutes, he finally reached a small slab of stone which was the top. Subsequent to a failed attempt at standing, he merely laid down upon it, staring at the sky.

He noted that there was a stark absence of any clouds now. And it supplied him with a dizzying sensation as if he were the one on the top of the world, and the sky was beneath him. He would’ve laid there longer had not a strange sound emanated from beneath him that piqued his interest. He frowned. He had never heard anything of the like before.

Unsteadily, John rose from the rock and took in the sight before him. And what he saw made his breath catch at the enormity of it. The sound he had heard before came from the giant waves of water that rose and crashed violently against the protruding rocks far beneath him, water spraying like fireworks. Edges of the water were white, however – white and seemingly soft as clouds. Wind brushed past him in strong gusts, tugging at his oil-stained shirt with desperation. And the air that hung around him was thick with the scent of salt that as opposed to making him feel ill, soothed him. He closed his eyes and spread his arms to either side of him, feeling the sensation of an intangible sort spread through John, and he laughed with genuine happiness – with genuine feeling. He had a sensation minutes earlier that he was on top of the world, but he was sure that now he truly was.

He opened his eyes, gazing down at the water and suddenly realizing how high up he was, scrambled backwards laughing. He was so elated that he had promptly forgotten about his mortality. However, against his better judgement, John moved toward the edge of the cliff and gazed down. He couldn’t help but think how insignificant his life seemed back at home when all this existed: the flowers, the birds, the view from the cliff. Why did people care so much about clockwork and stiff cranks when nature thrived on this hidden side of the world? How could they seek to remove the beauty of it to replace it with acid showers and smog? Why couldn’t he choose which he wanted to hold onto and which to let go? Suddenly John’s prior elation vanished. Because as much as he loathed the place in which he was forced to live in, he would have to return nonetheless, unable to take his new discoveries with him.

“I was born into a world devoid of choices…,” John murmured. He gazed out at the crashing waves again, his pulse beating in time with it.

“And so was the nature that used to exist around the world.”

He hoped one day the people would revisit it again – not for the sake of yielding its riches. But for its beautiful immortality and eternal innocence that has the uncanny ability in ensnaring any soul. For true beauty of the world is what gives life meaning, he thought before he turned around, his heart unprepared to leave.

***

He exited the arch, his eyes gazing down at the arrow. When before it had pointed presumably north, it was now pointing south, back to civilization. John couldn’t hear any noise of the city from here, yet it nonetheless pained him in his bones. He wanted to go back to the natural sanctuary, but logic won over. Where would he find food? Shelter? Water? Birds might be able to feast on worms, but the prospect of eating worms haunted him. Besides, someone would wonder where he’d gone – well, at least the machines would.

Tears brimmed John’s eyes as he took the parchment in his other hand. He couldn’t tell anyone of the nature sanctuary. No one would believe him, as in a funny sort of way, they were programmed not to. Like the machines they were told to operate. He could only hope that someone other than himself would bear the secret. He wasn’t sure where the paper came from or how it worked, but it needed to be sent away again.

John stepped some feet away from the arch and held the paper, prepared to release it. He closed his eyes. He couldn’t help but notice that there was a similar breeze to the one earlier that had whisked the paper onto his shoulder. And with that thought, he threw the paper into the air with a firm thrust.

And the paper flew up, above, and away… away…

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