I wrote in a blog post the other day here about my dream that RL and SL had switched places, and it gave me the chills. Here’s the story that came of it:
by Bay Sweetwater
The old man crooks his finger toward the small girl waiting a dozen or so spaces behind him in the line and motions her to come forward and take his place. She points her tiny finger at her chest and mouths “me?” in disbelief. Her eyes are wide; she chews her lower lip. He nods. The girl takes a quick breath and turns questioning eyes to her mother. “Go ahead, then,” the mother says. “You know Mr. Sanders. Maybe you’ll get your chance today.”
The pale redheaded 4-year-old runs up to the old man ahead of her, the way children always run no matter where they go, too full of hope and eagerness to waste time wallking. She gazes up at him with her fist balled up against her mouth, her leg bent slightly with the toe of her foot nervously tapping the ground behind her. He smiles and holds his ticket outt o her, then bends down and whispers into her ear, “Tell me all about it tomorrow, huh?” She shakes her head up and down, too excited to speak. The man turns to me. “She has never felt the rain,” he explains. I nod.
It is almost time. I step forward in front of the line to address the line of hopeful faces. “Good morning. I am the Window Guardian. I know you have all been waiting since early morning, and we are almost ready now. At exactly 10 o’clock, five minutes from now, I will receive the report from EnviroCentral, which will inform us whether or not an opening of the Window is authorized, and if so, for how long. If an opening is permitted, each of you selected will be allowed two minutes to climb up to the platform, and stand outside. We can only allow one person at a time for security and safety reasons. The wind has been blowing north, away from our compound, so the radiation levels here have been dropping, and radiation in the air has also been reduced by recent rains. So the chances look good. One moment now while I receive the report . . .”
How well I understand why the old man gave the child his ticket. Many of us had so many precious chances to be outside before the disaster — walked in the hills, sipped coffee in outdoor patios, swam in the oceans. No more. The radiation has made all of that impossible and will continue to do so for the next thousand years. We live underground now, in massive warrens, dimly lit and poorly heated to conserve the scarce power, most of which goes to run the virtual world of Genesis where we live most of our lives now.
But the small girl with the pale face and the long stringy hair has never been outside. She was born in our warren. She has never felt the rain. In her short 3 or 4 years, she has lived most of her days within the virtual world of Genesis. Her school is virtual, her playmates are avatars, and her homework is online. She takes meals, baths, and organized exercise in the warren, but that is about all the time she spends here. The underground tunnels and rooms are too cramped, dim, and lifeless to house the spirit of a young child. When her mother says, “Go outside and play,” she means–all she can mean–is to log into the bright vitual world of Genesis. For the generations to come, except for the Window, Genesis will be their world. The Old World, as it is already being called, will become the secondary, eventually forgotten, world. The real and virtual worlds will slowly, inexorably, change places.
The old man pats the child on the shoulder, then steps out of the line, casting a wistful look back toward the Window in the ceiling. Then he turns and walks back down the tunnel. The mother calls out after him, “You are a warmhearted angel, Benjamin.” He turns, gives her a little salute and smiles, then resumes his slow halting walk into darkness.
The Enviro report is coming in now, and I study the numbers marching across my screen. Yes! I am authorized to open the window for exactly 10 minutes today. A quick calculation: 10 minutes, 2 minutes per person . . . so 5 people will be allowed to feel daylight on their skin, touch the soft rain, sniff the air, see the few trees that have managed to survive. I gesture a thumbs-up to the waiting line.
Cheers erupt, and I begin to collect the tickets from the first 5 people in line, waving the others away, trying not to notice the disappointment in their faces. Two more of the 5 selected people gave their tickets to the little girl. She has never touched the rain. She will have her chance today, her one chance. For who knows when in her lifetime–or even if–her name will ever come up again in the Window lottery?
She tells me her name is Jane. Jane. What a simple lovely name.
“Well, Jane,” I say, “I am going to open the Window now. Just climb up these stairs and stand up on the little platform at the top. The light will feel warm, and it may move a little over your skin. Don’t be afraid; that’s what real light does. You have three tickets, so you will have 6 whole minutes to see the daylight, breathe the outside air, feel the rain on your face, watch the clouds and trees, with nothing at all between you and them. I’ll be right behind you if you need anything.”
She clenches her little fists and swallows, then turns back and waves at her mother.
“Are you ready?”
Eyes wide, she bobs her head up and down, like a duck on water that she’ll probably never see.
I push the button on the control board, and the Window slowly, gently, miraculously opens. Jane doesn’t move for a full five seconds, then she races up the stairs and stands up on the platform, leaning out into the world. Rain falls on her face, and she reaches up in wonder to touch the drops. She has touched the rain!