A Stellar Flare of Young Adult Writing and Visual Art
BY BLAINE FINSTEIN
In The Beginning
On the first day, God created the heavens and the earth. He saw the darkness over the land and said, “Let there be light,” and the sky opened up with the beauty of a thousand suns. The darkness he called night and the light he called day. God looked down and saw that it was good.
On the second day, God created the oceans, rolling over the earth and washing the soil in a flood. The waves carved out valleys and canyons, leaving their history in the land.
On the third day, God created the plants and the animals. Every inch of land was covered in life carved from the soil, screaming and cawing and crowing. God breathed life into their bones and flooded their veins with blood. He lifted their heads toward the heavens and they stood up straight. The world was filled with noise.
On the fourth day, God took it all away. Their organs grew weary of the strain and began to fail. Their heartbeats pounded in their chests, speeding up as they fought against the inevitable, the shortness and finality of their lifespans. Their bodies collapsed. The life spilled out of them and back into the land that had given it to them. God had created death.
And on the fifth day, God created blindness. It poured out of the moon, spilling over the sky like ink. Everything was black. The sun was washed and blotted out of the heavens. Soon, the sky became saturated and drops fell down like rain. When they hit the eye, the ink coated it with its color and seeped into the skin, blocking out the light. These people were called ‘blind’.
Onyx heard the story a thousand times. The creation story: how everything came to be. The people repeated it like a prayer, whispered it from their lips and prayed it into the empty sockets of his eyes. They willed it into being. It passed down like legend from generation to generation. The parents told the children and the children told their children. Then the oldest died and the young heard the tale anew.
Somewhere in the generations, an alphabet was invented, and paper with which to use it. The legend was written down. The children read it for their bedtime stories and learned about it in their schools. Then it became history.
In each generation there were the blind, those who had felt the ink fall onto their skin and had their lives turned into darkness.
God had not been seen since the beginning. Perhaps he was resting. Perhaps it was good.
He woke up in complete blackness. There was no color in his vision, not a dot, a blip, or a pixel. What lay before him was a midnight desert, dunes sunken into valleys raised into a singularity of nothing and everything. It was a vast expanse, a 2am sky without the shades and subtleties. Just pure black.
He liked to think of what he saw as the sky. Not a country sky with stars sprinkled across it, but a city sky, black like coal. He liked to think that the entire universe existed before him, planets and air and nothingness for miles and miles. That his eyes bled into the blackness, soaked into the pool of the heavens.
He was blind. ‘Was’ is of particular importance in that sentence. It doesn’t just refer to the fact that he had no vision, but that he was blind, in the past tense sense of the word. He was born blind. His pupils sat like cold gems in dead muscle.
He had one color memory. He wasn’t sure how it got there or why, but he knew that it was blue. A deep blue, blue stretched on for miles. Dark. Like the black, but less dense.
Tala didn’t. Onyx had asked her once if she saw anything other than black and stared towards him, confused. They were both blind; of course she hadn’t seen any colors. He, of all people, should understand that, that their situation was final. There was no color. He didn’t bring it up again. He knew that there was no rationality behind the blue. It wasn’t connected to a memory or a picture, so it couldn’t be something he had seen. Maybe his mind conjured it up in a desperate attempt to give him the sight that he wanted. Maybe he dreamed it. He wasn’t sure.
Tala and Onyx spent most of their time together, of their day, in fact. The other kids played their games and stared at their screens for hours on end, but Tala and Onyx were left out in the cold. So they made their own games. They played sometimes, but sometimes they just talked.
Tala wanted to see. She wanted to play with the other kids and walk down the tunnels without clutching at the stone walls like a lifeline. She wanted to be uninhibited, free.
But Onyx only wanted the colors. He didn’t mind the blindness itself or the isolation it produced. He liked being by himself, so he could forgive his body that much. But he wanted the colors so badly. He wanted a canvas of shades, a sky swirled with rainbow clouds. He wanted to be drunk with the immensity of it all.
For now he made his own sight. He used his hands to see, grabbing at walls and groping every surface with his hands to create a map of his surroundings by touch. Instead of pictures to associate with words, his brain conjured textures. The walls of his room were rough and cold, bumpy with raised edges and dips. This was rock. His sheets had the smoothest texture he knew, and light, like running water through his fingers. This was fabric. He didn’t need his eyes to see. He knew the intimate details that go unnoticed and are lost in vision. Eyes focus in but leave out so much.
But his map was black. His whole world was black. Even his name, Onyx.
Tala tapped him on the shoulder to get his attention but he knew she was there by the sound of her footsteps. That’s how they communicated. They had a dictionary of sound that only they knew.
He turned his head in her direction, listening for the slightest noise. The tunnels had a way of echoing your plans to the sleeping bodies within.
“Let’s go,” Tala whispered, her voice eager with a hint of exasperation. “Not too fast. I don’t want to get caught again.”
“Just go.” Tala pushed him forward and sprinted past. By the time Onyx broke out into a run, Tala was long ahead of him; he could tell by the echo in the hallway. The tunnels were long, running like roots through the Mound where they lived, but the rarely used path they took was a short sprint to the pipe. The unfamiliar ground rendered their mental map useless and forced them to rely on their hands and a bit of luck. The path was sloped and could hear Tala’s laughter spiraling down the rock walls from below as she ran, but he was a bit preoccupied.
“I think I hear someone coming!” Tala laughed in mock horror, her voice hitched as she gasped for breath and her pace slowing to a walk to let Onyx catch up. Onyx flicked her shoulder when he finally caught up, then placed his hand in hers so they could walk together.
“Nobody is awake,” Tala whispered into his ear. “And even if they are, they wouldn’t come here. They’re getting a good night’s sleep with those synthetic dreams.”
“Oh, shut up,” Onyx snapped, annoyed by her taunts. “We’re almost there.”
The sound of rushing water swelled as they walked. Onyx was careful to keep one had on the wall and one clutched tightly to Tala’s so that he didn’t fall.
The water fell from the top level, hundreds of feet in the air. Tala and Onyx were on level four, about sixty feet from the bottom. Kids weren’t supposed to go near it, especially at night, but being blind had an odd way of helping you go unnoticed.
They reached the edge and the water began to pound in their ears. It roared, like the stream drifting lazily on the surface above had awoken as it cascaded down the walls, jolted into action by a primal fear of death on the sharp rocks below.
“ON THE COUNT OF THREE,” Tala screamed, but Onyx couldn’t separate her voice from the sound of the waterfall. He heard no warning before plummeting into space.
The fall itself lasted no more than a few seconds. The wind whipped through their hair as they flew through the open air. They didn’t know how close they were to the ground, but after a bit they felt themselves begin to slow until they came to a stop a few feet above the water.
They could hear the current pulsing right in front of their faces. Tala reached out and placed her hands on the surface, then splashed the water across her face. She breathed out slowly, the hint of a smile playing at the corners of her lips. It was quieter down close to the water. She reached out for his hand. For a moment, they were all that was.
They dangled like explorers on invisible ropes. One second.
Then they began to inch up slowly, like a rubber band around their waists had been stretched to its limit and was beginning to pull back against the strain. They came up gradually and then all at once, rocketing upward into a backwards freefall. Limbs twisted into limbs in a mishmash of bodies. They held on.
In another second it was all over and they were standing again on the solid ground of the Base, the lowest level of the Mound, a few stories over the river.
“I guess that wasn’t a complete waste of a night,” Onyx said after his breath slowed down to a steady rhythm. As he had a chance to sit, Onyx began to notice how cold it was in the pipe. The wind from the falls sent a chill down his spine that wasn’t entirely pleasant.
Tala smirked. “I told you. But we’re jumping from Level 10 next time. Maybe even 12. No more playing it safe.”
“Do the crash sensors even work from that height?”
“Of course they’ll work,” Tala scoffed. “The whole point is to keep people safe. They won’t just let us die.”She sat up and brushed the hair out of her face. She sighed, sitting still for a few seconds. “You just have to trust the system. They need us. We need them. It’s symbiotic.”
Onyx was only a few months younger than Tala but it seemed like more. She was the mature one, the smart one. Everything she said came out nice and neat, but it wasn’t like that for Onyx. He could never get the words to sound right, like he was trying to solve a puzzle but the pieces wouldn’t fit together. Tala was fearless, too. He admired that about her.
“Even if the sensors don’t work, what’s the worst that can happen? You might fall in the water? You’d live. You might crash on the Base? You’d live. They’d have a medical team here in minutes to put you back together again.” Tala pushed herself up from her hands and stood up straight, brushing the dirt off of her clothes and pushing her hair back behind her ears into its usual part.
Tala leaned in and kissed his cheek, her body warm in the cool stillness of the tunnels. She pulled away too soon, but kept her hand intertwined with his, grasping for a connection, for a piece of him to keep with her. She couldn’t express the feeling in words and settled for the mundane. “Well, I have to be up at the crack of dawn for my lessons tomorrow. Let’s head back to the tunnels.” Onyx paused for a moment and bit his lip, then grinned mischieviously. “Wait. There’s something else I want to do. Unless you’d rather sit this one out?”
Onyx knew what her answer would be before the words reached her lips. “I’ll meet you out on the surface. Thirty minutes, max.”
Onyx ran down the tunnels, not bothering to grasp at the walls for the handicap he didn’t need. He had been down the tunnels too many times to fall. He slowed down when he felt the floor dip slightly into the lower east pod.
His door was two minutes away. He let the source feed the countdown into his ear.
The adrenaline mixed with the sprint had sent his heartbeat pounding into his head, but he didn’t stop. He went straight to the cupboard, feeling around clumsily for the bottle he knew was there. His fingers touched smooth plastic and closed around the container.He stuffed the pill bottle into his pocket and ran back out the front door. He took off down the lower east pod until he got to the bridge, running over the final stretch.
He knew he made it when the stagnant air of the Mound gave way to a gentle breeze. It was colder outside.
“Over here!” Tala yelled, a few yards to his right. Onyx moved slowly this time, with both hands skimming over the sloped ground, careful not to fall. He felt the grass and the dirt on his hands, so different from the chalky rock walls of the Mound or the synthetic objects housed within it. He inched to the right until he found Tala’s hand.
“What did you bring me?” Tala teased. “You know I don’t like surprises.”
“Something good,” Onyx replied. He reached into his pocket and pulled out the pills.
They rattled in the bottle as he fiddled with the lid.
“Hold out your hand,” Onyx said. He turned her palm up towards the sky and poured a few onto her hand.
“What are these?” Tala asked, feeling around the unfamiliar object, trying to connect it to a memory or translate it into something she knew.
“Synthetic dreams,” he answered. Tala gasped, then broke out into a smile. They were pills for dreaming, to lull the body to sleep and occupy the mind with a story. Something happy. Tala and Onyx were not allowed them, their brains unable to supply the knowledge required to dream, the effects on them untested.
“What do you think will happen?” she whispered, her voice forced down with the weight of the moment.
“Who knows,” Onyx replied. They paused for a few seconds on the outside of the Mound, shivering slightly in the cold winter air and from their nerves.
“On the count of three?” Tala prompted. “On the count of three,” Onyx agreed.
They lifted their hands to their mouths, tilted their heads back, and tossed the pills in. They chewed them, crushing them into a fine powder. The taste was bitter, like notquiteripe fruit, but not bad. Then they swallowed and waited for it to happen. Onyx gripped Tala’s hands. He whispered a prayer into the void that he would dream, but the void swirled silent in front of him.
After a few minutes, his head began to swim and he felt his knees give way. He fell onto the cold earth on his side, Tala right next to him, their hands still locked.
“Goodnight,” he whispered.
“Goodnight,” she replied.
His head was really pounding now. There was a slight buzzing, like bees were hovering next to his ears. He turned his head to the side and felt the cool breeze on his face. The buzzing had drifted into his head now, like the bees had snuck in through his ears and filled up the air inside his skull. The sound was sharp and still gaining intensity. It consumed the world around him in a roar. It grew louder and louder, pushing at the sides of his head and building in the back of his eyes. The noise blurred into one highpitched ring. He leaned his head back and let out a gasp before his head burst open at the seams.
Onyx opened his eyes and everything was blue. He blinked a few times and let his eyes settle, but he didn’t think he could get used to this. It was too bright. His eyes had been shrouded in darkness, resting for nineteen years. The color almost burned.
It wasn’t a memory now. It was there. The deep blue he remembered, the blue that was there all along, was right in front of him. And there was so much of it. It was everything.
He tilted his head down to find himself but it was just more blue. Did he still have a body? He certainly felt like he had a body. Maybe everything was just painted over in blue. Maybe that was it.
He tilted his head up and found that there were clouds. Blue clouds, swirled into the space above him. He reached out to touch one but there was nothing there. For some reason, this amused him. He smiled, broader than he ever had before.
He broke out into a run and he heard his footsteps echoing throughout the void like he was running on the solid ground of the tunnels. He ran faster. He felt the sensation of wind on his face. Then he jumped.
But he didn’t fall. He hung there, suspended inside the blue like an explorer attached to invisible ropes. He floated there for a minute, free.
Blaine Finstein is a senior at the School for the Talented and Gifted. He lives in Dallas (the city, not the suburbs; that’s an important distinction) and spends most of his time at the library or at home with his cat, surrounded by an equal amount of books. He writes because he loves to, but also because there’s something uniquely human about a story and its ability to affect another life. Find him on Twitter: @Blaine8English