It is New Year’s Eve again. The one day when the aliens come down from the wilds to put on a show. The citizens call the performers aliens, even though the denizens of the city were the ones who came here in metal ships. The citizens came from a planet besmeared and scarred by man’s hubris. Those who live here now have forgotten that their cities were originally built among the wild people, on the floating islands miles above the violet sea. Everything shines here. Time passed as it always does. Tick, tick, ticking away. The sordid past, why they built the floating city, has been erased from the communal memory.
A young girl enters the central plaza, Jackson Wither, named for her great grandfather. Her parents shouldn’t have been surprised when she embraced her namesake heartedly. She wears his glasses and wouldn’t be caught dead in anything other than a pair of khaki slacks, an off white waist coat, and an assorted button up. Her curly black hair shorn short in front of the bathroom mirror, clouded with steam. She has no friends of note but no enemies either. A shroud seen but never remembered. Tonight she wanders the festivities with her heavy old leather bag securely worn over both shoulders. In one hand, a sucker she bought for herself, the other clasped around the leather strap on the opposite shoulder, knuckles white in an anxious death grip.
She stops short noticing a boy with skin as dark as night. She had heard that some of the aliens had skin tones that varied from the starkest white to sea foam green. His, though definitely strange, was close enough to some shade of brown to barely cause disquiet in the community. Other party goers swirl around her as if she were just another part of the scenery; a statuary tribute to old ways. He wears an outfit that contrasts with his skin. All around he seems to glow with an ethereal lavender luminescence; one of the performers. While the contrast of light and dark is striking, his eyes caught her attention first. His eyes, a shade of silver to match the metal work behind him. His gaze holds her enthralled as he brings one foot behind his head. He twists and shifts his body moving fluidly while his head remains stationary; eyes never breaking his persistent stare. His body mimics the sculptor’s organic twisting shapes.
At a booth not too far away a young brunette takes aim, coils, springs, and earns a scream of delight as the dart pops the balloon on the far wall. Paint splatters the back wall as well as the attendant. He reaches down to pick up the slip of paper with the prize written in curving silver lettering on black card stock. A giant fluffy toy. The champion, triumphant and broke, hands it to the girl leaning against him. She holds it to her chest with delight as he turns to glower at someone across the way.
A lanky boy enters then, Tristan Crew, the son of the only doctor in the city and subsequently the son of an extremely wealthy and affluent member of the society, stands awkwardly. He is uncomfortably slumped so as not to loom over the party goers playing games and enjoying the sites around him. As he does this he counts the number of cobblestones visible to him and, through quick calculations, extrapolates the number in the plaza, he memorizes the number of people wearing hats, the proportion of men to women, the median age, the decibel rating of the shriek a child aged three point two to four point seven just ejaculated, and the angle of depression of the sloping ground toward the center. His hands are dejectedly stuffed into the too small pockets of his grey slacks. He chews his lower lip as he shuffles his feet impatiently awaiting the end to the festivities; simultaneously trying not to stub his toe on the bricks underfoot for the seventeenth time this evening.
A tinkle of laughter draws his eyesight up to a girl with short curly blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. She twirls on a long purple ribbon made of velvet. The edge tickles his forehead. As he watches all of the sounds surrounding him fade to nothing. He follows the chrome and lavender glitter confetti falling around her. The confetti feels content, majestic almost, when swirling around his feet though they started their suicide dance somewhere high above, catching the light on their way down to send pale refractions across the girl’s face. Her hand is out stretched downward toward Tristan’s face like she is reaching for him. Just as he thinks she will touch him it twists and one finger curls in, beckoning.
Behind a food stall that pervades the air with something far too sweet an incredulous teen and his biggest fan lock lips passionately. This sporadic affair established moments ago caught them both off guard; both searching for a moment of peace in the discord of the festivities came face to face here. Perhaps it was the way the flecks of silver in her hair complimented her bra strap or the loose lipped smile of someone who has had one too many that enticed him once more. Their fervor in the dark erase all memories of significant others from their minds; the other’s sides, now unattended, seem like an unfinished puzzle missing their crucial piece, left jagged.
A woman whose family is similarly prominent in society’s eyes strolls into the plaza, her arm hooked around the giant plush stuffed toy her currently missing boyfriend won for her at one of the game stations. Elle Medit’s eyes are hungry for him. Somehow he managed to slip away from her while she was talking about her dress with an elderly woman who drinks with her mother on Thursday afternoons. It is a vibrant emerald number with no back accept to cover her unmentionables and barely any front to make up. Here, there is no such thing as too much skin. A young man with a stutter splutters something about liking the way her chocolate colored hair looks with the emerald crusted comb pining it up into the French twist. She waves her hand impatiently in his general direction as she pushes her way farther into the plaza.
The pale amber irises roam from one corner of the plaza to the other finally resting on a boy younger than her with shockingly red hair, a dusting of freckles scattered across his nose, and who brandishes knives the size of her forearm. It is the glint of steel and the promise of danger in the hands of a boy, who faintly resembles a character from one of the novels she was forced to read by one tutor or another, which attracts her.
The skin tight violet shirt and black tights seem out of place on his lean frame. She pictures his chest pink from the sun, peeking through a duster hanging haphazardly. When he smiles at her there is a darkness hidden somewhere within but she only notices the gap and imagines how it might whistle whenever he recites, “Sally sells sea shells by the sea shore.” He opens his mouth and looks straight up, head back, blade descending.
The idea of red viscera flashes in her mind but she dispels it with the impression of his lips on hers, swollen and pink instead of pale, pressed to the hilt of the blade. The teeth flashing white next to silver, grazing her collar bone and not the tang. Then out it comes, pristine, not a hint of red anywhere along the blade. She stands there breathless and flushed.
Children shriek in delight chasing each other in circles constantly forgetting to protect their own ball while in pursuit of another’s. The aim of the game is to be the last one with a black ball; simple enough. There are at least a dozen left and a score more cheer on their comrades; loyalties move fluidly as the power struggle continues.
While Elle’s boyfriend is still missing in action, his best friend is leaning against his father’s store front. Exactly where he is supposed to be, Declan Trince has remained there all evening, arms crossed over his chest, brow furrowed. Before him children are hooting wildly playing a game that eludes his understanding. He would have taken his ball to the outside of the skirmish and waited until everyone else was done fighting. Games are pointless time wasters anyway. His leg muscles tight from lack of movement call him to pull away from the wall to stretch them. As he bends forward he catches a glimpse of the mess within the plaza. People everywhere surrounded by performers and vendors. “Superfluous, frivolous, rudimentary,” he mutters to himself.
If it weren’t for the celebration he would be out for his usual run around the island. Instead his father placed him on guard duty. “Watch the store, make sure none of the drunk partygoers break the windows. You know what would happen. All hell would break lose and people would rush the store front to steal all our merchandise. Don’t ever trust them Decks. You can’t trust anyone but family and even then the only person you can be certain to come through for you, is yourself.”
As he turns to lean against his wall again he catches what look like sparks out of the corner of his eye. A fire? So close to the store front, best make sure it doesn’t get out of hand. As he pushes his way through the crowd he sees that the source of the flame is not trash blazing or a handful of unruly sparklers but a short staff held in the hand of a tall thin woman. Her hair a midnight blue, her skin a rich caramel color, glistening with a fine sheen of sweat. The flame she holds in one hand must be warmer than it looks. Perhaps she is nervous. She takes a swig from a clear bottle, tilts her head back, and brings the flame to her lips.
Higher, higher, and higher still shoots the flame. It crackles against the dark sky above him. Even when she stops blowing a few rogue sparks remain, glinting in memory. His eyes are drawn back to her. She catches his eye and smirks. He frowns in her general direction but remains rooted to the spot.
The hands on the clock affixed to the store front slowly move on. Time passes. A click, a chime, fifteen minutes until midnight. Time to head toward the plaza. It is almost here.
Someone who hates the festivities almost as much as Decks pushes his way into the center. Patrick Emareta holds a nasty looking cluster of fireworks, partially hidden up one sleeve, and an industrial looking lighter in the other. He notes the pleasing clomping noise his combat boots make as he walks on the hard black stones. His pants, ratty and dragging along the ground, add a faint scraping to the cacophony. He rolls his shoulder brings his arms up and out in front of him, to pull the sleeves of his beat up leather jacket back exposing the chartreuse bandanna tied around his right wrist. He looks up to where the rockets will likely fly and takes pause for a moment
Balanced precariously above him on a wire no thicker than his thumb is a tiny girl. Her long black hair is parted down the middle and twisted into two intricate looking braids that dangle behind her, flowing lightly in the breeze. In her left hand she holds a white parasol and her right arm extends for balance, her delicate fingers touching pad to thumb in circular succession; pointer, index, ring, pinky, pointer, index, ring, pinky, pointer, index, ring, pinky. Patrick squints up at her as she walks, sure and steady, along the wire. Her violet costume gauzy and ethereal. There is glitter or rhinestones in it; the light catches it in ways that it shouldn’t on the rough fabric. His view is obscured momentarily by a cloud of metallic squares and he cranes his neck to catch site of her again.
Somehow as if planned each rapt denizen stands immobilized; back to back with the rest. They stand in a ring staring at their respective performers in the center of everything. There is a snap.
Suddenly they are encapsulated in a glass box. Stunned suddenly into silence. Striking compared to the discord a moment earlier. Whatever surrounds them has blocked out all of the noise of the party goers on the other side of the walls. They can still see out at the crowd which has turned to face the box. People appear to be screaming with delight as they brandish their pennants and balloon animals; sick twisted pieces of rubber stretched taught around some man’s hot air.
Each of the faces on the other side of the wall is filled with abandon as they count down to the New Year; completely unaware of the five worried faces within. Just as abruptly as the silence the box created came, it is replaced with frantic shouts, pounding against glass, and ear splitting screams that would have shattered even the most respectable of wine glasses.
The only one who isn’t making any noise is Jax. She stands in the center of the box watching as one person per wall tries to get out. Tristan yells at the crowd in front of him, “Somebody let us out! Somebody, anybody please! Can’t you see us?” He smacks his open palm against the glass sending reverberations.
Jax has seen this happen before when she was very young. She had convinced herself that she had imagined it; but now? Elle’s shrill voice cuts through next, “Dear god we are going to be flung into space. Don’t you know what this is? It’s the box, THE box. We are going to die in here!” Jax can see the reflection of the tears streaming down her compatriot’s perfectly made up face. Streaks of gold run down her tan cheeks.
Complete and utter silence as arms fall to their owner’s respective sides. A sputter from Elle, a surprised breathe let out of Decks, Patrick’s knuckles crack as if in anticipation of a fight, and finally a light moan from Tristan. There is a moment where their gazes lock with the lures set there to ensnare them. Each grimacing in anticipation. The rush of air as they watch everything they held dear blurs before them is deafening, nauseating, terrifying.
Elle and Tristan shrink down from the force pushing on them, the other three stand tall and watch out of the glass walls. There is a moment when it feels as if they are floating in midair, hanging from a thread. The thread snaps its frayed edges untwisting as the cube spins back. They fall towards the violet sea that lays waiting, lapping at the black cobblestones littered with confetti. Tumbling and falling over one another they aren’t prepared for the landing.
It isn’t the purple waves that catches them but the cold ground of the floating lands; the wilds. The glass still intact moments after impact suddenly shatters. Bodies flow out like water, no container left to hold them. Strewn across the grey dirt lay mirrored shards and emotionally shattered men and women. Groans of pain escape their lips. Self-inspections: all in surprisingly good shape for the fall they just took; a cut here, a bruise there, nothing more serious than a bad sprain. Slinking to their feet and surveying the land that their great, great, great, great grandparents were kicked off of, dread sinks into their stomachs and they look to each other for the first time, not as peers, as the only things keeping each other alive.