It’s been so long that no one knows why the walls were built. Nobody wants to leave. They are the tallest thing anyone has ever seen, and they stretch for the furthest distance anyone can imagine. Everything anyone has ever wanted is inside the walls. No one knows what is outside, what we are unable to see. No one has ever been to the top of the walls, no one knows how thick they are. We know they are stone, but not what variety, it is something we do not have inside this enormous enclosed space.
I will be the first. I will climb the walls. I will tell everyone about the world we have never seen, the world we have never known. I will document the measure of the walls’ breadth, length, and height. I will draw the surrounding land for all to see and imagine what I have seen with my own eyes.
Then they too will wonder as I do, will wonder what of the world we have missed, will desire to explore and know it, to understand it, to be in it. They will help me open a door in the wall to the outside, and a search party will explore and further document this land we have never known, the plants and animals and maybe even people we have never seen, never imagined existed.
Maybe they won’t want to leave the familiarity of it all. Perhaps I won’t want to leave either, after seeing what we cannot reach or touch. That is unlikely, but certainly possible. I want, at least, to see it before I decide. I want to know what is out there for myself, to no longer rely on the unsatisfactory folklore of my people, who have never seen what is outside either. If anything, I will at least inform everyone. They will know with certainty what the walls are keeping from us and if we are being sheltered from something insidious.
“Kaashif!” my younger sister, Nimshi interrupts my thoughts.
“Mother wants you, Kaa. Said for you to come inside.”
“Thank you, Ni.”
She nods, smiling, skipping away, presumably to find her friends. Her long blond locks trail behind her, bouncing with her movement, swaying from side to side. I smile, watching her for a moment, then turn and head indoors.
“There you are, Kaa. I was wondering. You were outside for quite some time.”
“Yes, Mother, I was thinking again. Do you need help with something?”
She smiles, brushing a strand of graying brown hair from her cheek, “No. I just wanted to check on you. See how you were.”
“Ah. I’m doing well. Easier to think outside is all.”
She nods. “The sweet air is nice this time of year.”
I smile, taking the knife from her hands and cutting the malna for her. The red tuber yields easily to the blade, the ashy rind only slightly difficult to cut through.
“You really don’t have to help with that.”
“I know, Mother. You always say that.”
She ruffles my ragged brownish blond hair. “It’s always true. You have more important work to be doing than cutting vegetables and preparing food.”
“So do you,” I note, finishing the first of the round tubers and starting to cut the next.
Everyone does. I have outdoor studies to take part in and people I’m to interact with. She has the garden, the sewing, and crafting to do here. Even Ni has responsibilities.
Mother nods, washing a handful of brelth berries, the small, lumpy green sweet berries found all over during spring. “This is true, but someone has to cook and keep house, and surely you or Ni don’t have the time to do it.”
“That probably applies more when a father is earning the money.”
Her face washes with sadness, causing me to regret resurfacing such memories.
Father died five years ago now. I remember crying, clinging to Mother at the burial ceremony. He had climbed part-way up the wall and fallen. Probably about thirty feet in the air, about ten feet below the height of our tallest buildings. He was so far from the top, but he had been determined – determined to at least see the world beyond this enclosure at least once before he died. He never did, he never will. That is part of why I have to. I must. I can’t let his dream die with him, even five years later. Even if he’ll never see it, everyone will remember his son as being the first who did, and as a result, remember him.
Tears prick my eyes, fire building in my chest as I remember my purpose, my calling, my mission. The one goal I have in life is to fulfill my father’s dream. Somehow, someway. I have to at least try, even if I die as he did. I will climb the wall. I will reach the highest point anyone has ever been. Hopefully I will reach the top and see beyond.
Mother doesn’t respond, merely pulls out another knife and begins cutting the brelth berries and extracting the hard seeds from the centers. I finish cutting all five malna for her in silence, turning to ask if she has anything else to cut.
“Are you all right?” I place a hand on her shoulder upon noticing her tears.
“Yes. Yes, Kaa. Thank you for your help. You can go back outside if you want,” she brushes the salty droplets from her face, giving me a quick sideways hug.
“Are you sure? I can keep helping you.”
“No, no, it’s fine. I can handle myself. Please check on Ni, though. Find out just where she went.” She smiles, gesturing for me to go back outside.
I nod. “I’ll let you know, Mother. Don’t worry.”
“I never do. Now go!”
“Okay, okay!” I jog out the door and in the direction I recall Nimshi headed.
I need to weave rope. Lots and lots of rope. One long, long strand. Strong, too. It needs to be able to support my weight and probably about twenty pounds more, too. Just as a precaution, and to allow me to carry supplies. On second thought, more than twenty extra pounds. I’ll need to gather vines, but they’re not on this side. They’re all the way on the opposite wall.
I’ll need to gather food, stuff that will last. Preserves and anything else that will keep. It’s hard to say how long I’d be up there, on top of the wall, drawing, measuring. I guess I could tie the rope to the top and climb back down, but I’m not sure I’d want to risk others cutting my rope while I’m away, or climbing up themselves. I want this to be my accomplishment. The Sarwan name will be remembered for having a dream and bringing it to fruition. For being the first to know what we have never known.
I’ll need more clothing, durable articles. Stuff that will resist wear and weather. And shelter. A tent, or something that is light and easy to put up and take down. Bedding, too. How long is this list going to get? How much will I need? How many trips up to the top of the wall will I be taking? Maybe I should build a house at the edge of the wall, and a fence too, to claim some property and have my rope secure. Then I can come down and go back up till I have everything I will need to go around the whole wall.
I have to assume the top of the wall is wide enough to camp on. Based on what I have learned about architecture, it is very likely the walls would have fallen if they were not, merely because of how tall they are. Unless the walls are somehow strong enough to withstand the shaking and waving a tall, thin structure would experience, they must be thick.
I pause my thoughts when I notice someone outside. When I come closer, I find that it is Mr. Chanrin.
“Hello, Mr. Chanrin, have you seen Nimshi?”
“Yes, I believe she went to visit her friend Kolora.”
“Thank you.” I walk in the direction of the Fertun household, hoping Mr. Chanrin is right.
“Kaa, what are you going to do after you finish school?” Mother smiles at me, bringing up a topic I had been avoiding.
I sigh, she would find out eventually, not that I want her to.
“I-I’m going to… I’m going to climb the wall,” I hold my breath as I wait for her response.
She freezes, her back to me, preventing me from knowing her exact expression. When she finally speaks, her throat sounds tight from the strain with which she chokes out, “What?”
I speak more gently, “I’m going to climb the wall.”
I watch her hands clench the towel she’s holding. She was in the middle of washing the dishes, refusing to turn and look at me as we speak.
She shakes her head, “No. No, you can’t. I can’t lose you too, Kaa! I can’t lose you the same way I lost your father!”
I put a hand on her shoulder in an attempt to console her as she began sobbing, but she pushes me away.
“You can’t climb the wall,” her voice shudders, but is the coldest I have heard from her. “Anything but climb the wall, Kaa. Anything. I can’t lose you! You can’t leave me with shattered memories of you and your father!”
My face falls to the floor in shame and I speak softly, “I-I’m sorry, Mother. I-I have to fulfill his dream. I can’t let it die. I must climb the wall.”
Mother turns around and grips my shoulders, eyes blazing, “No, you mus’n’t. You can’t leave me like that. You can’t leave Ni! She can’t lose a father and a brother also! Do anything else!”
Tears prick my eyes. “I have to do this. I can’t let Father’s death be the end of his dream. I have to try again for him.”
Her face turns cold, she looks away from me. She releases my shoulders and returns to the dishes, giving up on convincing me.
“I’m sorry,” I whisper.
She shakes her head.
I walk dejectedly to my bedroom, quietly closing the door.
I completed my schooling, building near the wall in my spare time. I had a fence and a meager structure. It was enough. I wouldn’t be living in it anyway. I bought a rinebark woven tent, hard but flexible, nearly black in color, insulating but breathable. It was perfect. The vine rope was under order, still being made. I lacked the skill to weave rope or fabric, otherwise I’d have made both items myself.
“Bye, Mother. Bye, Ni.” I hug them both, assuring them I would return, I would stay safe. The coldness that had developed between Mother and I, the constant attempts to dissuade me from my task, had worn on all of us. Even so, I could not turn back now, not when I have barely begun.
“Make sure you come back to me, in the name of Ouran. Whatever else you do, Kaa, come back to me!” she cries desperately. Tears are threatening to stream down her face, scared I will face the same fate as Father.
She references Ouran, the god of truth.
I nod somberly, “I will. I swear on Ouran I will, Mother.”
She tightens her grip on me and kisses my cheek.
“I’ll be coming back, probably sooner than you think. I can only take so much food.” I force a smile, knowing she’s worried, understanding why, but not wanting her to be.
“Make sure you keep your promise,” she says, a wild look in her eyes.
I nod, forcing myself to pull away. “I will.” I walk out the door, waving again to my mother and sister.
I walk a long, long time to the opposite wall. Probably weeks, but I lose count of the days. I’m close to doing it. Soon I’ll be climbing the walls, measuring things, observing the outside world. At least, assuming there is an outside world. If this is literally all there is, if oblivion lies beyond, I don’t know what I’ll do or how I’ll react.
Finally, weary but growing stronger, I arrive at the shop I ordered the rope from. The green-brown building looks worn, but not particularly old. It is not made of mud like most of our buildings. The sign in the window reads “open,” so I turn the doorknob. A bell dings as the door swings open.
“’Ello! Welcome ta ‘Vines an’ More,’ ‘ow can I ‘elp ya?” a grubby man behind the counter greets me.
“I’m here to pick up an order for rope. Sarwan.”
The grubby man flips through a stained notebook on the counter. “Aye, I’ll git it fer ya. Wait jus’ a minute.”
He turns and goes through the door labeled “Employees Only” next to the counter.
After the door closes he yells, “’Ey, Cropnik! Git the ropes fer Sarwan! The real long uns!”
“Aye, sir!” the response sounds feminine, but I can’t be sure.
The man comes back. “Should be just a minute. Cropnik knows w’ere it’s at.”
Cropnik, a short girl with her red hair in a boyish style, appears in the doorway. “’Ere’s yer rope!” She plunks two wide coils on the counter.
“Thank ya, Cropnik,” the man says.
She smiles at me before turning and heading back through the door.
“’At’ll be forty crenshins.”
I count out the money and pass him the full amount. He counts it to double check, and then pushes the coil across the counter to me.
“Pleasure doin’ business wit’ ya.”
I nod, “Thanks.”
To be continued…
This is the first part of my novella The Diary of Kaashif Sarwan. The first two lines, “It’s been so long that no one knows why the walls were built. Nobody wants to leave.” were the prompt that inspired the story.
This takes place on Irqulnirn after the apocalypse.
Part two will be available soon. Read it now by becoming a patron.