We would like to thank everybody who entered our first weekly flash fiction contest, 1001 Stories of Tower City. We hope you enjoyed writing your stories as much as we enjoyed reading them! Our wining entry this week comes from Jenah West, who gave us a glimpse into what it would be like to have to live trapped within a high rise building. Take a look at her story below. Congrats and thanks for your entry Jenah!
By Jenah West
I held my right index finger to the open door button of the lift. I was impatient; desperately in need of fresh air. The doors parted and I sprinted from them, into the arms of the orchids and chrysanthemums. Certainly, the atmosphere was thick and humid, but it restored me. I felt far less stifled here than in our homogenized, air conditioned apartment. My brother liked to sit near the kitchen window and observe our former world below. I didn’t need a reminder of what we’d left behind. Also, I can’t stand heights. Always been afraid, probably always will be.
The war had left the ground barren and deadly. My parents, a nurse and a firefighter, were offered the chance to move into the tower. It was still being built when we received the invitation. I had reservations, and expressed them by slamming doors and screaming incoherently. When I had calmed sufficiently, my parents explained that the only way to survive was to surrender to the titanic structure. They spoke of reinforced layers of concrete, clean air, and missile defense systems.
In the final days before moving, I often escaped the shelter to lie on the charred remains of our garden, and gaze up at the scarlet-tinged sky. Mum kept running out and dragging me to my feet.
“The ground is dangerous, Lara! You know this.”
“It’s already too late, Mum.”
We repeated this conversation on multiple occasions. Each time she walked away from me, shaking her head. I was right, although neither of us wanted me to be.
My final interaction with Earth as it had always been, was to say goodbye to my Nana. It had been six months since our last conversation, regarding her famous Victoria sponge recipe. Dad stopped me from seeing her after the bomb, and I didn’t protest. When she died, three days later, I was overcome with guilt and shame. I had so much to say, even if her spirit had departed. So I decided to sneak into the dining room, where Mum had been treating her. She was covered in a navy blue bed sheet, but it hadn’t completely obscured one of her hands. Even in the dim light of early evening, I could see her fingers were charred black. I didn’t want to see any more.
“Sorry, Nana. For everything.”
I couldn’t even make it to the bathroom before throwing up. Mum ran to me with a bowl. My terrified expression told her what I’d seen. There was nothing she could say to erase that image, so she held me as I heaved and cried. As terrified of the tower as I had been, suddenly it became a savior. On moving day, I returned to Nana’s makeshift grave. My brother had crafted a marker from the wooden headboard of her bed.
MARGARET JANE YATES
1938 – 2012
BELOVED WIFE, MOTHER, AND GRANDMOTHER
I touched my fingertips to the only record of her being, and said goodbye.
We were given an apartment on the 49th floor, sandwiched between a theatre above and a velodrome below. The intelligent and sturdy construction ensured we couldn’t hear anyone treading the boards on our ceiling. My family’s living space was identical to that of our neighbors, scarce decorations aside. The tower had been planned for a decade, but built quickly. As such it was pretty utilitarian. Everything clinically white; a fresh start. I didn’t have many possessions, but I did have a crumpled John Lennon poster, which I made a point of pinning to my bedroom wall.
“Above us, only sky” I muttered.
Life began to return to normal, or at least post-war normal. At school, we exchanged mock exams for apocalypse preparation. It seemed ridiculous to prepare for something we’d already experienced. In any case, the walls of the tower cocooned us from whatever exploded on the outside.
I’ve tried to escape, just once. It was a fortnight after we moved in, and the constant low hum of the air conditioning was beginning to make me delirious. I wanted peace, and I knew that it could only be found on the outside, savaged by war. One night I took the lift down to the first floor. I knew there would be guards, and rationally I suspected I could never get past them, but I wanted to try. A small group surrounded me as soon as I stepped out of the lift.
“Young lady…?” ventured one of the guards, tightening his grip on a gun resting diagonally across his chest. He looked like a stormtrooper.
“I just want some fresh air!” I replied, much louder than I intended.
“You won’t find it out there. Have you tried one of the parks?”
“Full of kids screaming.”
“At this time? It’s 0200 hours.”
“Midnight joggers, then.”
He moved closer, and snarled in my direction, “try the botanical garden. There aren’t many plant geeks in the building. It’s where I go to escape.”
“Thanks…” I whispered, as I wandered back towards the lift. A beep, then open doors. I pressed the button for Floor 75.
You can follow Jenah on Twitter @jenahwest!