Splinters: A Dystopian Short Story
“Splinters,” a dark, dystopian short story, inspired by a novel I wrote long ago. Enjoy!
I can’t sleep. It’s difficult to, in a soundless place. And the Hexagon is soundless, except for the intermittent whoosh of air through the vents. Cold air. Night desert air, pumped in from outside. Outside, at night, it’s cold. Cold enough to freeze. Rhys told me so. He tried to run the first week. He got so cold that only a couple miles out, he had to curl up under some rocks for warmth. The Praetorians found him there. He’d jammed his tracking device, but he hadn’t removed it, and they have ways.
“With the lizards,” he said when they brought him back, before they took him away again and put him into solitary in the sixth wing of the Hexagon where no one ever goes.
I thought a lot about what he meant. With the lizards. Did he mean he’d slept with the lizards, under that rock? Was it some kind of secret code I was supposed to figure out?
And now I can’t sleep.
I get up and go into the soundless hall, the patter of my own footsteps echoing in my head. The Hexagon has floors made of glass and steel. It reverberates with every movement. In the daytime, when there are plenty of us moving around, it’s not a problem. But at night —
And there are no locked doors, which is perhaps the most maddening thing of all. In some ways, we have more freedom here than we ever did back in Youth Housing. But in all other ways, we are trapped. Trapped in this labyrinth of glass and steel. Trapped in the desert. Trapped in ourselves and at the same time, outside of ourselves.
The floor echoes and resonates as I move down the hall, the tiniest shift unleashing splinters of sound. For a split second I discern the faintest of fragmented melodies, like a bird singing in the rain. Then it’s gone. With a sudden swoop of bright silver moonlight, I emerge on the outlook that juts over the atrium. The tall glass windows hulk seamless and gleaming out of the moonlight. I go to stand by the rail and look out. At the edge of the horizon, the place where sky meets sand, a faint light glows. Dawn.
Scree — eee — eee —
To my right, glass chitters. The ground beneath my feet shudders ever so slightly. But I haven’t moved. The hair on the back of my neck stands up straight, my spine tingling. Scree — eee —
Something, invisible in the darkness, is coming for me. For a moment, I’m sure of it. I almost scream.
“Lina,” comes the voice.
I spin. Skee — eee — The darkness bursts to light. It’s Andrew, his com-watch illuminating the corner. He’s slumped by the barrier. I blink, my eyes adjusting. For a moment, it looks as if his eyes have been excised. They’re cavernous pools of darkness that go on and — He’s wearing sunglasses. Sunglasses at night. And clutching the neck of a broken bottle. there’s a bottle-butt-sized hole in the barrier glass at his side. The chittering? Splinters of glass, falling into the atrium below.
“Don’t be afraid,” he slurs. He loops one arm over the barrier and hauls himself to his feet. The remaining glass shakes and rattles in its frame, shivering, squealing. He staggers towards me, moving in jolts.
“An — “
I only get the first syllable out before he lurches into me, closing the gap between us. Hands slam into my shoulders, drunken breath assaulting my face. I do the only thing I know: pivot, like he taught me. And he goes stumbling into the space behind me, just like he told me attackers would.
He just catches himself.
“Oh, you think you can — ” He looks past me, suddenly disoriented. “Sheeee….eet. Lookit that mess.”
I’m not paying attention. There’s something wet on my arm. Blood. Am I cut? Did he cut me, the stupid —
No, it’s him. Blood drips from his fingertips. I don’t think he’s noticed.
“Whatta mess,” he says.
Two stumbling zombie-steps carry him towards the broken glass. I grab his arm.
“Stop it, you’re drunk. You’ll hurt yourself.”
The sunglasses bore into my eyes. He swats me away, easily. “Let go of me, you stupid little girl. Want me to call the Praetorians on you?”
“You’d be calling them on yourself.”
He curses and spits at my feet. “Don’t make me mess up your face.”
“You wouldn’t do that to me,” I say. My voice wavers.
“Oh, yeah?” He raises the broken bottle. Wardens aren’t supposed to drink. None of us are. I don’t know where he got it. From his lovers, I guess. From the powers that be. It strikes me suddenly that he’s just as trapped as we are, and maybe for the same reason. Son of a first-class Citizen he may be, but how could they let someone like this wander around out in Society? He wouldn’t follow his Programming! If he can’t follow his Programming here, that’s proof enough!
Now he falters. Lowers the bottle.
“I better clean up this mess,” he mutters.
And turns, switching his com-watch light off. It’s dark. My eyes begin to adjust. When I can see again, I see him on his hands and knees, leaning over the splinters, face haggard, hair hanging, weeping. A little voice in the back of my mind tells me to leave him. But I know I can’t leave him.
So I bend over with him and give him the only solace I have to give. I can’t hold him. Can’t know him. Can’t begin to love him. I can only show him that we together can sit here, sweeping up the splinters together with our bare bleeding hands.
I hope you enjoyed “Splinters”!
Long ago, I wrote a dystopian novel, and this short story is inspired by a scene from that novel. I’ve been thinking about writing a few more scene-inspired stories like this one, so if you liked this, please let me know!
If you’re interested in reading more short stories, you can check out Ernest G. Valencia’s fantastic short story “Blues.”
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Let me know what you thought of “Splinters” in the comments!
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